Time of turmoil for Norfolk’s older people

Health reporter KIM BRISCOE speaks to the outgoing chairman of Age UK Norfolk and his successor about what challenges the charity faces in helping the elderly.

He has had four years at the helm of one of Norwich's leading charities helping older people, and Alan MacKim is confident that when he steps down at the end of the month Age UK Norfolk will be robust health.

But the 79-year-old is fully aware that the challenges the organisation faces in the coming years will be significant.

He said: 'This is a time of great turmoil. Over the last couple of years older people, who are predominantly in the lowest 20pc of the income scale and rely on fixed incomes, have been having to cope with a colossal increase in the cost of living.

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'Now we are also facing a government determined to change just about everything as well as making inroads into a programme of cuts. They are altering the whole shape and structure of community support services in the country, as well as a complete reorganisation of the health service. It's in situations like this that older people are very much entitled to feel extremely exposed and vulnerable and frankly never before have they needed more support.'

Age UK Norfolk's information, advice and advocacy services have seen an increase in demand, while telephone calls for information and advice were getting longer and more complex to deal with, and finding ways to fund this support is increasingly difficult as the economic squeeze bites further.

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Mr MacKim said: 'The organisation Age UK Norfolk is full of ideas and never at any time were new ideas ever wanted by any organisation any more than they are now. We are in very good shape for the future, but the times are going to be rather hard. We are as strong as we possibly can be. We have something like 150 staff, 250 volunteers and the quality of both staff and volunteers is really quite humbling – they are so good it's untrue.'

Mr MacKim said the charity was looking to offer those who do not receive state help more support in their own homes.

Succeeding Mr MacKim is Peter Forster, who worked for more than 20 years as a consultant general physician specialising in rheumatology at the James Paget University Hospital. Dr Forster, 62, from Halvergate, said it was hard to plan for the future during such an uncertain time for funding.

It is also a time of change for the Norwich-based charity, which recently changed its name from Age Concern Norfolk to reflect a merger between the national charities Age Concern and Help the Aged.

One way in which Age UK Norfolk is trying to adapt to the new climate is to offer more services. As councils and health authorities axe some contracts and bring in personal budgets, the charity wants to ensure it is well placed to provide the types of help and support that people want to spend their personal budgets on.

One example of this is Age UK Norfolk's new Household Helpers service, for people who want to stay in their own homes but are struggling with cleaning, shopping and laundry.

Dr Forster said: 'I think the biggest challenge will be working with authorities and operating in difficult economic times.

'Although we are a charity we are very much dependent on the goodwill and generosity of people in Norfolk for our funding and we are also dependent on money that comes from contracts with Norfolk County Council, particularly in adult social care.'

Contact 01603 787111 or visit www.acnorfolk.org.uk

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