The next Government should take note: social entrepreneurs are providing solutions to an ageing society

One of the most prominent themes in this year's General Election campaigning has been how the country should plan and provide for later life. A vastly improved life expectancy, one of the great triumphs of the last century, looks set to be one of great challenges of this one. By 2020, 15.5 million people will be over the age of 65, with people over 50 making up 47% of the total adult population.

This requires us all to radically reimagine how we can continue to ensure the health, social and economic wellbeing of older people.

The good news for the next government is that people across the UK already have solutions. Fitness lecturer Ben Allen saw first-hand the poor quality of life of care home residents in his home town of Scarborough and realised the urgent need for a better way to deliver adult social care. He founded Oomph! to deliver fun and regular exercise to care home residents which inspire mobility, social interaction and mental stimulation. Today, over half a million people take part in Oomph! sessions each year in over 1,200 care homes and the venture has diversified to deliver meaningful activity training and transport services.

Increasingly, solutions are focused on preventative and holistic care. Social Entrepreneur Mark Swift, founder of Wellbeing Enterprises, has a vision of a social movement for health that will extend the methods his team at Wellbeing Enterprises have been using for the past 11 years.

'Our wider vision and dream is that we will create a social movement for health and we will spread our approaches across the whole of the UK. We know that a significant number of people, about a fifth of all people, who go to their GP practice will actually be there not because of a medical reason, but because a social issue is exacerbating a health issue'.

How they work to improve each person's wellbeing is as diverse as each patient they work with. They spend time to understand where the issues lie and the develop a structured plan for a patient's wellbeing. Mark's organisation has supported close to 20,000 people to improve their health and wellbeing. In the process Wellbeing Enterprises won a prestigious HSJ award in 2015 - the first non-clinical organisation to do so.

Growing Support is a South West CIC that works in care homes and other public spaces to provide therapeutic gardening services for older people and people with dementia. Their work helps participants become happier and healthier by maintaining a connection to nature and their community.

The venture's director Dale Cranshaw said: 'We know there are high levels of loneliness, social isolation and inactivity in care homes for older people which leads to poor health and wellbeing outcomes. A lack of access to the outdoors, nature and community networks are all significant contributing factors to these issues and we are working hard with care providers and health and social care commissioners to try and address them.

'Dale added: "We would like to see more government funding for social entrepreneurs, local government and the health service from the next government to help tackle the health and social care issues affecting our aging population. Our social care and health services are under significant strain. Whilst social enterprises have some of the solutions to doing more with less, there is an urgent need for real investment in health and social care so that commissioners can focus more on the kinds of preventative solutions many social enterprises offer, as well as maintaining and improving existing provision.'

Growing Support: A focus on the preventative solutions

There are many more out there like Ben and Dale - over the last seven years UnLtd has provided financial and non-financial support to over 200 social entrepreneurs dedicated to creating bold solutions for an ageing society led by the needs of older people. A recent partnership with Coutts Foundation saw us supporting 21 health and social care ventures who have collectively benefited over 6,500 people. A quarter of these developed brand new products or services for the healthcare market.

Earlier this year we launched Transform Ageing in partnership with the Design Council and the South West Academic Health Service to pilot a first-of-its kind model for service design, bringing together local people, social entrepreneurs and health care professionals to design the services needed for people in later life in their area.

Public authorities can benefit hugely from the radical innovations of social entrepreneurs, and from their ability to engage service recipients in co-creating and co-delivering the solutions. Some providers of public services have begun to look to social entrepreneurs as partners, but many don't yet know how to engage effectively with them. These social ventures may appear too risky, or too small to offer delivery at scale.

In turn, social entrepreneurs need commissioning and procurement systems that are less complex, able to take greater risk and embrace partnership with the social economy.

Only if we bridge these different worlds in practical, cost efficient ways will social entrepreneurs begin to deliver health and social care impact at scale. The next Government should look to these social entrepreneurs and their emerging potential for a blueprint in how to solve one of the pressing challenges of our age.

Read about our previous blog, thoughts from the Social Economy Alliance, and why we must show the next government that social entrepreneurs have the solutions.

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