Social alarms to telecare
Older people’s services in transition

Five: Social alarms in England and Wales


Of the 300 public sector services in Great Britain identified by Fisk in 1990, 280 were managed by English and Welsh local authorities (Fisk, 1990, p 3). These included many of the largest and smallest services, in terms of the number of their service users.

The establishment of the early schemes in Stockport and the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham have been described in Chapter Four and some of the debates concerning the technology options and ways of configuring social alarm services have been initiated. Notable, however, is the extent to which the social welfare perspective, exemplified by the Stockport scheme, was set aside as housing authorities developed services that primarily responded to their management requirements for sheltered housing. To put it bluntly, older people with high levels of support needs, whether or not living in sheltered housing, were not their responsibility and they, generally speaking, saw their social welfare objectives in terms of responding in emergencies rather than supporting independent living. But social alarms were attractive to housing authorities because of their perceived ability to improve the efficiency of sheltered housing services, make revenue savings and, in the words of Parry and Thompson (1993, p 16) make a “major contribution towards improving the working conditions of many wardens”.

It is small wonder that social services authorities had to stand on the sidelines while their housing colleagues were almost indecent in their haste to acquire the new technologies and garner the associated kudos. In some instances the social welfare practitioners may have appeared suspicious and/or hostile towards such developments and that, perhaps, was entirely predictable.

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