'Scrap fees for students who help OAPs'

SHAUN LOWTHORPE Gordon Brown has been urged to scrap tuition fees for teenagers willing to spend a gap year looking after the elderly. Norfolk should be used to trial a scheme aimed at bridging the generation gap and giving youngsters a meaningful role to play in the heart of their communities.

SHAUN LOWTHORPE

Gordon Brown has been urged to scrap tuition fees for teenagers willing to spend a gap year looking after the elderly.

Norfolk should be used to trial a scheme aimed at bridging the generation gap and giving youngsters a meaningful role to play in the heart of their communities.

The idea is the brainchild of Norwich MP Ian Gibson, who wants an initiative piloted in the county.

Speaking during a regional pensioners' conference at Easton College, near Norwich, Dr Gibson said a scheme could be part of a gap year or form of civil national service.

He said that similar ideas were already doing the rounds in 10 Downing Street as the Prime Minister develops policies aimed at promoting citizenship and Britishness.

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Mr Brown has already hinted that he is keen to overhaul the honours system to reward citizenship over celebrity and it is widely thought that he will use this year's party conference to flesh out his ideas on how to promote community life.

The city MP was speaking days after international development charity VSO warned that the growing pressure to volunteer overseas during a gap year can be damaging and had spawned ill-planned schemes that leave young people out of pocket - sometimes by several thousand pounds,

As thousands of pupils today get their A-level results, the MP said a scheme could form the perfect means of bridging the generation gap between young and old.

“We could scrap the tuition fees, or they could get a reduction - Gordon has also talked about that,” he said. “It's an incentive for them to re-engage with their community.

“I don't just mean people doing social studies courses. They should engage with the elderly, not just to do the shopping, but talk to people and listen to them.”

Dr Gibson said he had been impressed by pupils at Sprowston High School, who routinely work with the elderly. But such schemes could go further.

“Norfolk should be doing this as a pilot project. I think Gordon Brown would be interested in supporting this, because it's all groups coming together to help the elderly.

“There's a huge batch of young people, they are not all Asbo material. The elderly folk love them, they treat them as grandchildren.”

In Norfolk the county council does not offer a gap year for youngsters, but does offer work experience to those interested in social care. The authority also offers placement for UEA and Norwich City College students on social work degrees.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, who also spoke at the conference, welcomed the idea, but said the government had a lot of work to do on improving its pensioner policies.

“Gordon Brown has moved very heavily towards means testing for helping those on the breadline,” he said. “A lot of elderly people find it demeaning to have to apply for help.”

Daniel Cox, leader of Norfolk County Council said, he favoured increased volunteering, and supported former Tory leader's Iain Duncan Smith's proposal to make volunteering a part of the school curriculum.

“Much of the true value of volunteering lies in its potential to help young people appreciate that they are part of something greater than themselves, that they have the potential to contribute to society and in many cases act as a bridge between generations in their community,” he said. “However, many young people are never given either the encouragement or opportunity to volunteer.”

Yesterday a report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights highlighted the 'shameful' treatment of elderly people in hospitals and care homes.

And the 300-strong conference at Easton College organised by the northern branch of the Eastern Region's National Pensioners Convention (NPC), also heard calls to restore the link between pensions and earnings for all, and reverse the controversial post office closure programme.

Edith Pocock, Norfolk and Norwich Pensioners' Association secretary, said the conference reflected the growing strength of grey power and urged policymakers to take on board pensioners' concerns.

“We have got people here from all over East Anglia, what we want them to do is listen,” she said.

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