The lame helping the blind

In Emmen, in the province of Drenthe, home help for the elderly and chronically ill is no longer going to be a one way street. ‘What can you do in return?’ the council wants to know. De Volkskrant reports.

4% of the population of Emmen relies on home help. The national average is 2.7% and the council is struggling with a yearly deficit of €10m, the paper writes.
People who can no longer cope will now be helped by people from sheltered workplaces: ‘its one hand washing the other’, council spokesman Erika Hoekstra says. The elderly and the sick should organise themselves a bit more, is her message. ‘Supermarkets have delivery services these days and there are volunteers to come over for a chat.’ And the volunteer can be a disabled person as well, Hoekstra tells the paper. ‘Someone in a wheelchair is perfectly capable of keeping others company or filling out tax papers’, she says.
The council has also implemented a new mobility system. The so-called ‘scoot mobiles’ are underused, the council maintains. It wants to park them at the local home for the elderly and anyone wanting to use one will have to let the local authorities know.
Union AbvaKabo FNV has threatened legal action against the measures which it thinks are ‘extreme’. Local home help organisations fear job losses and a lack of expertise which might damage their clients. ‘People from sheltered workplaces can’t do the things we do, such detecting early signs of dementia. They haven’t the training.’
In an analysis, the paper writes that Emmen is an example of a national trend: the authorities are expecting something in return. The new buzz words are independence, self-reliance and civic power, the paper writes. ‘The cutbacks are being paired to a different approach. We should be looking at what people can do not what they can’t do and that includes people who are vulnerable. Many politicians and policy makers think the welfare state is making people passive. The safety net has become a hammock and needs to become a trampoline. And helping each other would benefit social cohesion. Why would people help each other when there’s an organisation that will do the job for them?’, the paper sums up the present thinking.
Shadow side
But there’s a shadow side, the paper writes. The welfare state was invented to make people independent of each other. Rights instead of charity. If this new way of doing things gains ground, not everybody will have equal rights. Some councils will be more generous than others, the paper warns.
Nor is less support from the council a spur to adequate neighbourliness. The paper cites research done in Eindhoven. Neighbours were perfectly willing to help out but the people needing the help were often too ashamed to ask for it. ‘Their social network is usually made up of people with similar disabilities and it would become a case of the lame helping the blind’, researcher Lilian Linders tells the paper.
Sick relatives
The argument that people aren’t prepared to do things for others is a fallacy too. According to figures from the government social policy unit SCP, the Dutch do more voluntary work than their European counterparts. 3,5 million people look after sick relatives. Many are finding it difficult to cope. At the same time the pressure to perform is increasing. ‘The government is calling on people to look after one another and work harder at the same time. Families no longer live close to each other. Women have less time because they are more often in work’. the paper writes.
‘The criticism on the welfare state isn’t new. But it is now so interwoven with the cutbacks that many will feel that it is a badly disguised way of presenting bad news as good’, the paper concludes.

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