We looked at a home help service run by Oldham Council offering basic support to elderly and vulnerable residents so that they can stay independent in their own homes for longer.
Many local authorities have long since vacated the market for ‘home help’ services to the elderly and vulnerable. The market had become highly problematic, with worrying trends including companies that give their staff zero-hours contracts and minimum wages.
Despite this, a market still exists for cleaning and basic support services. In fact, it is a growing market due to the rising average age of our population. As such, there is a real desire for a service that not only provides real, practical support, but also generates revenue for councils.
In 2008, Oldham Council decided to create a service that would help elderly and vulnerable people within the Borough remain independent for longer. The idea was to provide them with support by completing everyday household tasks that enhance the client’s quality of life. The service would also be used to reduce isolation and social exclusion, whilst encouraging social wellbeing.
The service is open to all. It is free-standing and has grown from a slow start – with only one customer in the service’s first 6 weeks – to where it now stands, at around 250 hours per week, with around 200 clients. Each client receives a minimum 2-hour slot at around £26, which is offered weekly or fortnightly, and a monthly contract, that is invoiced in arrears. The client can expect the same cleaner each time (although this is not fully guaranteed), and staff are offered a cluster of clients, where possible. The council pay for the staff’s mileage whilst working, or provides them with a bus pass. There is also the flexibility to offer work to staff who also have school cleaning contracts, as these schedules can work around pre-existing contracts.
The service is currently delivered by 25 staff working between 10 and 20 hours per week, who are trained to deal with everything from cleaning tasks, to food preparation, to accompanying the client to the shops, to simply offering a social visiting service. As such, not only does this offer a multitude of basic support services, it is also a social lifeline for potentially vulnerable and isolated people.
One Oldham resident, Kathrine Hilton, has used the service for five years. In her case, cleaner Janet Ashcroft goes round once a fortnight and cleans the windows inside, makes the bed and vacuums around the house. Through this arrangement, the pair have become good friends and Janet stays for a chat and a brew.
Mrs Hilton said, “I needed a bit of help doing the things which were getting difficult to do, like stripping the bed and hoovering up. It gives me peace of mind knowing everything will be done. I was very house proud and I like my home to stay nice and tidy. I also look forward to having a chat and the company. I would definitely recommend it to others.”
Not only has this had an impact on Mrs Hilton, but her family have seen the benefits of this service too. Mrs Hilton’s daughter, Claire Kershaw, explained that “It’s been a real help knowing someone else is checking on mum and doing some of the jobs, as it frees me up to spend more quality time her. I’ve had no problems and the staff have been helpful and friendly.”
The council help those who require some level of care in the community to plan ahead and get the support they require, and they advertise this too. By showing people the services that they can offer, Oldham Council are able to ensure that their constituents have access to a high-quality level of care and support. Karen Wood, from the council, explains that the service has had a positive impact on perceptions of the authority in the community, explaining that the support service “provides a valuable provision to the community and can only present a positive image of the council to the borough.”
Although it is highly valued and useful, Oldham Council are careful to ensure that this service is cost-effective; there a clause in the contract which states that ‘If we provide you with cleaning services, you are responsible for providing the material and equipment necessary for the particular cleaning task. This will have been discussed and agreed with you when we carried out our initial assessment’. By doing this, the council avoids charging for cleaning equipment, as well as avoiding the responsibility of safely storing the cleaning chemicals. Similarly, the assisted shopping service states that the client is responsible for the costs of taxi transport and cost of shopping.
All in all, the service generates enough income to cover its expenses and Oldham effectively control costs in order to provide a balanced financial account. This achievement counteracts the notion that local authority-run basic social care initiatives create more problems than they solve for councils. It shows that providing this sort of service is a viable option for councils looking to boost their income and develop a service that is valued by the community.