Big Cuts, Big Society, Big Changes

Age UK and 71 local partner organisations met this week in the Royal Mint near the Tower of London.  It was an apt location given that we met to discuss, among other things, the impact of the spending cuts. Public spending, the Big Society and health and social care reform are some of the many challenges and opportunities third-sector organisations like Age UK face.

Who would have predicted two years ago that we would have a coalition government, £81 billion cuts package, the most radical reform of the NHS since its inception and far-reaching reforms to the welfare system?  I certainly don’t remember any of the popular pundits painting this picture of the future. The ‘shock and awe’ tactics of the coalition government has provoked two challenges – what does the change mean for us and how do we seize the opportunities that it presents? 

Part of the challenge is understanding what the Big Society – a concept that according to a recent Ipsos Mori poll say that 55% of the population have never heard of – means.   It’s a philosophy not a strategy – radical and disruptive in its intent.  It would be wrong to dismiss it as a PR or marketing gimmick. It’s the Prime Minister’s great passion. It is as central to Cameron’s agenda as choice and public service reform (albeit poorly articulated) were to Blair’s.

The key ingredients are:

  • Transparency about Government and local government expenditure
  • Driving decision-making down– to neighbourhoods where feasible
  • Personalisation – personal health budgets, personal care budgets
  • Freeing local government from central direction and control
  • Promoting partnerships with the private and not-for-profit sectors and encouraging volunteering

The Big Society is already in action and being translated across Government departments (despite rumours some Ministers are as baffled by the concept as the public!). Keen local authorities have volunteered to run pilots, tempted by the offer of having first dibs at the Big Society bank.

The philosophy is clearly visible in the health and social care reform agenda. Reforms are being built around the four 4 P’s – prevention, personalisation, protection and partnership (between service providers – charities and the private sector).

Huge changes are afoot. A complete shake up of the way health services are commissioned – not only in terms of how, but who; a shift of power with PCTs and SHAs being scrapped and local authorities gaining responsibility for public health; and the creation of new bodies such as HealthWatch and the Public Health Service (quite something in this era of quango slashing).

We all need to understand what these changes mean and be better than ever in articulating the need and the outcomes we deliver.  While acutely aware of the challenges change and cuts will bring, we need to ensure we seize the opportunities.

I’d really welcome your thoughts on the following big questions we face.

What are the implications for people in later life? How should we respond?

  • How should we position ourselves in relation to the Big Society?
  • What are the opportunities for Age UKs as a result of the health service reforms, and what do we need to do to make the most of these?
  • How should we best equip our organisations for dealing positively with the effects of public spending cuts?

Author: Michelle Mitchell

Charity Director, Age UK

4 thoughts on “Big Cuts, Big Society, Big Changes”

  1. Changes in the State Pension Age for women born after 6 April 1953. Many women who were born after the 6 April 1950 are not even aware that there SPA has already started to change but these new Government proposals mean that some women who are now in their mid – late fifties will see their SPA move by nearly 2 years ie they were due to retire at 64 and now must wait 2 years. This is unfair proposal, as a general principle Lord Turner in his review suggested that nobody’s SPA should be change after the age of 50. Not only is SPA affected but also the age that you receive free prescriptions, winter fuel etc. Please lobby your MP about this or anybody who will listen.

  2. Nearly 5 million people will have to wait longer for their state pension. Under the current legislation state pension age for women will be equalised at 65 by April 2020 and state pension age for both men and women will not start to rise to 66 until April 2024. But this government wants to speed up this timetable so that state pension age reaches 66 for both men and women by 6 April 2020. As Yvonne says women born before 6 April 1953 will not be affected but many slightly younger women will. Around 500,000 will have to wait over a year longer with those born between 6 March and 5th April 1954 having to wait a full 2 years. At Age UK we believe it is unfair for women to have the timetable speeded up in this way. Parliament will have to agree any changes and we are expecting a Bill to be published early next year. We are making representations and now is definitely the time for those concerned about the proposals to be raising this with their MP.

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