Elderly 'could share homes with jobseekers'

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Indy Politics

House sharing between pensioners and young single jobseekers in London and the South-east will be encouraged by the Government as part of a radical Department of Health shake-up of social care.

House sharing between pensioners and young single jobseekers in London and the South-east will be encouraged by the Government as part of a radical Department of Health shake-up of social care.

Pensioners in large houses, who are often lonely, will be invited to offer a spare room to younger people in return for routine help around the house, including doing the shopping.

The plans will be part of a Green Paper this autumn to tackle the breakdown of traditional support by families for elderly relatives which the Government estimates is worth £50bn a year. Ministers believe it will help tackle the increasing problem of "adult abuse".

Stephen Ladyman, the Health minister in charge of social care, said the voluntary house-sharing scheme could be put on a national footing, with possible state funding. Mr Ladyman said: "In return for subsidised rent, young, single jobseekers in London and the South-east could be invited to live with an older person, do a bit of shopping and agree to spend a bit of time during the week, chatting to them, involving them in their lives.

"You do something about the housing problem and the fact that young people need a bit of help to get their first job; and you have got somebody bringing a little bit of quality into an older person's life." Ministers are aware that many pensioners value their independence, and will not want to share their homes. But Mr Ladyman has told officials to "think outside the box" for a Green Paper to be published in the autumn on improving social care for the elderly.

Home-share schemes are already being organised by some voluntary groups. "Maybe we need to do more to help the voluntary sector to organise it, more to advertise it, maybe there are things we could do - maybe subsidise the administration of it or use grants to get home share started," he said.

Other ideas he is pursuing for the consultation document include creating a carers' website, like the eBay auction, where those who can provide help to the elderly can post what they can offer on the internet and the elderly can pick and choose.

Care swapping is also likely to find its way into the Green Paper. This would provide voluntary back-up on behalf of family members, who cannot regularly visit their own relatives in need of care, in return for a few hours a week of voluntary help in their own area.

Mr Ladyman told carers in a survey for the Green Paper that while people find it completely unacceptable to treat children badly, society allowed it to happen to adults. "There is a feeling that adults can look after themselves. For most adults that is true but a lot of adults in the care system cannot look after themselves. It is one of the reasons we have been much slower to deal with adult abuse than we have with children's abuse," he said. "In the old days all the family would have been in the same location. We would have seen ourselves having responsibilities towards each other which we no longer see ourselves as having. We all fly the nest without a second's thought about what will happen when the family gets old."

One of the most controversial changes will be a proposal for the elderly to receive direct payments or be given their own budgets for care. Mr Ladyman said they could also benefit from independent assessors, rather than having their cases assessed by NHS or council assessors, who could feel constrained by financial limits.

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