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Feb 2004 Journal

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Caring for older people: Realities and responses in the 21st century

Britain's Jewish community benefits from the services and support of 2,000 financially independent Jewish voluntary sector organisations. These have their origins in Jewish immigrant traditions of self-help which accept responsibility for maintaining and improving the health, education and social well-being of all those who identify as members of the country's Jewish community. Indeed, these agencies form a central pillar around which much of the community's activities and identification revolve.

Though many of these organisations limit their activities to a specific geographical area and limit the scope of the services they offer, others have metamorphosed into multi-million-pound agencies employing hundreds of paid staff and volunteers. Jewish Policy Research (JPR), the community's highly respected think-tank and source of research-based solutions, has published the results of a mammoth six-year study into the state of the 'nation': Long-term Planning for Anglo-Jewry.

JPR does not provide a recipe for revolution; rather it believes that we have entered a new era in which good intentions and muddling through can no longer rely on the conspicuous generosity of a handful of community-spirited millionaire philanthropists to foot the bills. This era is coming, or has already drawn, to its close. When ever-increasing demands are met from increasingly scarce resources, something has to give. For the Jewish voluntary sector 'to remain viable and vibrant in the twenty-first century', says the report 'organisations need to be more responsive to the needs of their clients and to plan their activities using research-based evidence rather than instinct and supposition ... The funds are too limited for services to be duplicated or badly planned.'

Care for the elderly is second only to education as the recipient of the community's largesse, yet surprisingly little research has hitherto been devoted to this key area of communal concern. There are 21 formal Jewish day centres for older people catering for 3,000 people a week. Some are independent, while others are run by larger community organisations such as Jewish Care and the Association of Jewish Refugees. Among services provided in people's own homes are kosher meals-on-wheels and dedicated social service teams who assess the care needs of older people and can usually organise a range of supportive domiciliary services.

In sheltered housing Jewish organisations have a total stock of 4,000 flats and houses, three-quarters in Greater London. B'nai B'rith JGB is the largest provider of specifically Jewish social housing with more than 650 units. Residential and nursing homes are the largest component in social care funding for older people. There are 36 Jewish residential and nursing sector care homes with 2,500 beds, proportionately higher in the provinces. While in the 1960s and 1970s the average age of residents was around 70, today's is a startling 88 years, rising to 90 years in London! Thankfully, the functional abilities of older people are being maintained much longer by means of improved medical and domiciliary services. Although most people express a strong preference for staying in their own homes, if they did need to be looked after in residential care, 67 per cent expressed a preference for a Jewish home.

With greater longevity, Jews are 'demographic pioneers' for the expansion of social services. Concomitantly, the elderly are using up their accumulated wealth to meet the substantial costs of sheltered accommodation and residential care, leaving diminished resources for their families and the charitable institutions providing these services. However, the acceptance of responsibility for the elderly over and above the provisions of the state remains accepted by virtually all sectors of the Jewish community. Improvements in the efficiency of delivery, targeting of resources and co-operation between service providers - as well as a sharing of the financial burden - has to be the way ahead.
Ronald Channing

previous article:Central Office for Holocaust Claims