Befriending is an essential service for lonely and isolated people in Derbyshire. Withdrawing its funding is a false economy.
Local charities and organisations are fighting the spending cuts which will cause loneliness and isolation and affect the health and wellbeing of Derbyshire’s most vulnerable.
Befriending services in Derbyshire deploy volunteers to support people who are lonely and isolated.
A recent survey by the Mental Health Foundation, found chronic loneliness increases the chances of an early death by 14% – a similar impact to being overweight or smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Volunteers provide a vital social lifeline as well acting as the ‘eyes and ears’ of the community, looking out for people who are most vulnerable.
With a quarter of the population of Derbyshire now aged over 65, the need for befriending has never been greater. While referrals for befriending from families, GPs, social services and others have never been higher.
However many of these vital services are facing cuts to funding up to 100% if Derbyshire County Council goes ahead with proposed reductions to voluntary and community groups.
Derbyshire Befriending Services are asking funders to think again, as this is clearly a false economy. Volunteer befrienders make a massive social and financial contribution – a 2015 survey of provision found that 754 volunteers giving their time to 31 befriending services contribute around 1571.5 hours’ time each week. If they were all paid the minimum wage this would cost £439,517 per year.
Volunteer-based befriending offers high-quality care at a rate which represents incredible value for money. One of the largest befriending projects in Derbyshire requires just £30k a year to operate a full service to well over 100 clients, deploying over 80 fully trained, screened and dedicated volunteers – including two weekly social gatherings and two members of staff.
If such a service were to be withdrawn, the consequences for social care, A&E, GPs’ surgeries, nursing homes, health visitors and others, would be enormous and hugely expensive. In truth, axing funding for befriending organisations is an invitation to greater costs and significant insecurity, as well as being the cruel removal of a much needed and relied-upon service.
At the Volunteer Centre in Chesterfield service users were quick to point out the difference the project had made to them:
“It is a great relief to know that The Volunteer Centre and its caring members exist as I don’t know what we would have done without their support. This is a worthy project that needs to continue in order to assist the forgotten minorities.”
“What a difference your project has made. You found me a wonderful chatty and humorous lady. I went from being rigid with fear to laughing.”
Kerrie Fletcher, from South Derbyshire CVS (which coordinates the Derbyshire Trusted Befriending Network) said:
“The befriending service in Chesterfield like others around the county – provide a vital lifeline to some of the most vulnerable people in our communities, linking them up with the friendship and support of trusted volunteers.
In return for a relatively small investment, the difference they make to people who are lonely and isolated is huge. I very much hope that the funders will reconsider their decision and find a way to continue to fund these valuable services.”