Could a time-banking approach fix the elderly care crisis?

A new scheme allows young volunteers looking after older people to bank hours for their own care later in life.

Young volunteers who care for elderly people could bank the hours they put in as care for themselves when they need it in later life.

That’s the plan for Give & Take Care, a £1m government-funded venture which fosters a new approach to informal care – one driven by time rather than money.

It could serve hundreds of thousands of people across the country in a fresh solution to Britain’s chronically underfunded care system.

Hosted by Brunel University and partnered by the East of England Co-op and Age Concern, the Give & Take Care model comes a week after MPs warned social care for the elderly is ‘on the brink of failing altogether’.

‘There could never be a more important time to talk about the care of older adults,’ said Professor Geoff Rodgers, Brunel University’s deputy vice chancellor.

‘This is exactly the right time for an initiative like Give & Take Care. We hope this becomes a national initiative so everybody in the country can benefit. It could change the way this country delivers care. It could be a big transformational project for society.’

Volunteering is key to tackling isolation and loneliness, said minister for civil society Rob Wilson at the launch of the programme in Berkshire last Friday.

‘I want volunteering to become a lifelong habit from people’s early years through to retirement,’ he said.

Give & Take hopes to attract some of the millions of people who give unpaid care to loved ones. By joining, they can build up a care ‘pension’ which they could either claim back as care for themselves in retirement or for as care for a relative. The banked time, which the East of England Co-operative Society will manage, is immune to inflation or market crashes – one hour of care in 2017 will remain one hour of care in 2037.

The scheme will be run through linked age-related charities, who will encourage their members to join. Give & Take charges the person receiving care a £1 admin fee to transfer the hour’s credit to the carer. So someone having five hours of care a week would pay £5, instead of £100, the approximate commercial cost.

‘It’s an example of a circular economy,’ said Gabriella Spinelli, an academic at Brunel’s institute of environment, health and societies, and co-director of Give & Take.

‘We see this as a viable solution to the increasing number of elderly people. Our aim is to relieve the NHS and social care system from the basics, so most people don’t start on the cycle of malnutrition and depression that loneliness so often leads to.’

The scheme’s creator and other co-director is scientist Professor Heinz Wolff, who believes that by upskilling current informal carers who are doing their best without training or support, Give & Take Care could improve the quality of care across the UK.

‘This could be the beginning of another major step change for society,’ he said. ‘If we all play a part, there will be an immeasurable increase in the quality of life for so many older people.’

‘It may go against the grain for people who think care should be paid for by government,’ Dr Spinelli admits. ‘But the economic argument is against them.’

Prof Wolff and Dr Spinelli are in talks with local authorities and the Care Quality Commission to work out how Give & Take Care can work as an alternative national care system. The pair are due to speak to Downing Street’s policy team later this month.

Give & Take Care was awarded £1m by Innovate UK, a government agency to support science and tech innovations.


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