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Up to £2.5m earmarked to fund volunteer army to help Norfolk’s vulnerable elderly population

PUBLISHED: 17:36 29 January 2013 | UPDATED: 17:36 29 January 2013

County Hall.

County Hall.

Sarah Cocke

Council bosses have been urged to keep care funds flowing for thousands of vulnerable elderly people - after they backed spending £2.5m on recruiting a new volunteer army.

Norfolk County Council hopes to find helpers to knock on doors and tell people aged over 75 about the care services they are entitled to receive.

This will include helping people access lunch clubs, befriending services, short breaks and welfare benefit advice.

The Conservative cabinet yesterday supported the five-year scheme, which will be funded from sources including cash clawed back from the failed Icelandic bank investments. The project will receive £500,000 a year.

It is part of a £5m Strong and Well fund, with a further £2.5m also available for preventative service over the next five years.

Care officials say prevention work can help save money in the long-term as it aims to spot the signs of illness before people need more expensive treatment.

But Unison has warned frontline staff, are effectively being replaced by volunteers, as the council’s adult social care faces further cuts in the 12 months ahead. They also questioned why 75 was the cut off point, when the aim was to spot the signs of illness early.

Phil Wells, Age UK Norwich chief executive, said he welcomed any money for preventative care.

He said: “Everyone is talking up prevention but this is the first really substantial commitment to achieve something. It’s very welcome in that sense.

“It’s a useful start but I hope the county councillors don’t think they have solved the problem by doing this. It gives us a start to hopefully do something which will help with this.”

Age UK Norwich and Age UK Norfolk, backed by the EDP, campaigned against county council proposals to reduce preventative care service funding by £11m between 2012 and 2014.

The council says it will spend in the region of £30m on prevention work during 2013/14.

The Strong and Well volunteer project will aim to make 7,000 visits per year. Each visit costs around £35.

It is predicted to cost £500 to train a volunteer.

Of the £500,000 available each year, £150,000 will be spent on volunteer training and support, £260,000 on visits and £90,000 on coordinating, marketing and recruiting for the scheme, plus overheads.

The council says it hopes to work with voluntary groups.

Shelagh Gurney, cabinet member for adult social services, said: “Due to Norfolk’s growing ageing population it is inevitable that age-driven demand for care services is going to increase. This will certainly impact on how much of the county council’s budget is spent on older people.

“However, this money will allow people to maintain their independence for as long as possible ultimately improving individual well-being, encourage communities to help each other, as well as prevent people from prematurely entering the social care system.”

But Jonathan Dunning, Unison branch secretary at Norfolk County Council, said staff were disappointed short-term projects were being put before investment in ongoing services.

He said: “We believe this represents a head in the sand approach to what is really happening on the frontline as services delivered by qualified or experienced staff are reorganised and restructured out of existence having a direct impact on the most vulnerable people.

“The amount of new money being invested in the Strong and Well project while cutting the adult social care assessment and care management service seems like a classic case of spin over substance.”

Jon Clemo, chief executive of the Norfolk Rural Community Council, said their projects included village agents and good neighbour schemes to ensure vulnerable people were well-supported within their communities.

He said the five village agents were covering areas around North Walsham, Cromer and Aylsham.

Mr Clemo said: “It’s very positive there’s added investment in this preventative action. We know Norfolk has got an ageing population. From a rural advocacy perspective, it’s ageing faster in rural areas.

“This is an area that needs work doing. It’s welcome, it’s appreciated and this can build a real partnership approach rather than duplicating.”

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