Social alarms to telecare
Older people’s services in transition

Four: The origins of social alarms


This chapter documents the evolution of social alarms and discusses their emerging role within the context of housing and social welfare service provision for older people in Great Britain and, to some extent, Ireland. Evident from this discussion are a number of dilemmas and choices that had to be addressed by service providers as social alarm technologies developed and were marketed. At the same time social policy and, notably, housing policy frameworks relating to older people were changing.

The key to the latter lay in sheltered housing and the then emerging role of the warden. Associated with this were a number of questions about the relationship between wardens and the services they provided to the older people living in sheltered housing schemes. The technologies and their use clearly had an impact on this by providing a means and a medium of communication that was previously unavailable.

That housing policy for older people took this course can be partly explained by long-standing concerns at that time about the inadequacy of residential care. Such concerns were particularly highlighted in the work of Townsend (1962). An irony, however, is that in seeking to develop sheltered housing as an alternative, key features of residential care were reintroduced as the sheltered housing model became more clearly defined. Call systems can be seen as having helped to consolidate such definition.

The broad definition of social alarms adopted in this book, that is including call systems, makes it impossible to point to their origin with any precision. In Great Britain, however, and as noted in Chapter One, the widespread use of such technologies followed the development of sheltered housing and the adoption of what were to become known as social alarms as a standard feature to link individual residents to a responder living elsewhere in the scheme.

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