Editorial | Deploy National Service Corps to support elderly
PETER BUNTING’S initiative to support elderly people in his Central Manchester constituency who are confined to their homes because of the COVID-19 crisis is an idea worthy of being scaled up nationally, although not necessarily in the form employed by the People’s National Party parliamentarian. As this newspaper previously highlighted, there are other ways it can be done, using institutions that enjoy high levels of trust, without the perception of colouration by politics.
Nothing, of course, is wrong with politicians, or political parties, helping their constituents, especially in times of crises, once it doesn’t amount to a misuse, or partisan allocation, of public resources, or their efforts don’t descend into vulgar patronage. To be fair to Mr Bunting, his project appears to be neither, and he has declared himself willing to work with government agencies, such as the Social Development Commission (SDC).
As part of efforts to slow the spread of the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19, which has killed tens of thousands globally, Jamaica, a week ago, mandated that people 75 and older stay indoors for 14 days. The lockdown expires next Wednesday but is likely to be extended.
The higher risk of old people, with other health problems, dying from COVID-19 makes the policy understandable. However, it was announced without any supporting structures for the people who may lack family or community assistance.
In Britain, where the population of 70-year-olds and over are also on lockdown, nearly a quarter-million people have volunteered, via the National Health Service, to provide assistance to an estimated 1.5 million elderly people who may need help, such as in delivering food and medicine, or looking in on those who may suffer from social isolation.
Mr Bunting wants to achieve something similar. According to the member of parliament, around 6,500 of the residents of his constituency, roughly 17 per cent of registered voters, are 65 or older, more than seven percentage points higher than for that age group nationally.
So, he has invited persons to sign up as volunteers under his Good Neighbour initiative and has asked colleagues, churches, community groups and the SDC to identify persons who might benefit from this effort. However, there are approximately 106,000 people in Jamaica over 75, the cohort that is now in lockdown. When expanded to people 65 and over, a group that has been advised to work from home, and otherwise stay indoors, the number rises to around 250,000.
TRAINING YOUNG PEOPLE
We have previously suggested that the Jamaica National Service Corps (JNSC), the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF)-inspired project to train young people in military discipline and work and life skills, could be deployed to provide services to this vulnerable cohort, supplementing private initiatives like Mr Bunting’s.
Already, the JDF has trained more than 3,500 persons under this project, some of whom it has retained as recruits to the army. Others have become prison warders, joined the private sector, or are seeking jobs. They all have the advantage not only of their training, but of having been vetted by the army. Those who are now without work, as well as those who are now in training, could be mobilised under the auspices of the JDF to provide support to the elders. The capacity to monitor those who might be entrusted with the resources of the elderly is obvious.
A scheme of this type need not end when COVID-19 passes. It is an opportunity to provide support to a raft of social projects, establish a qualitatively and quantitatively different level of treatment of the elderly, and to restart a programme to enhance values and attitudes in the society. Indeed, young people who commit two years of their post-high-school lives to the JNSC could perhaps receive rebates on tertiary tuition fees and credits for some college and university courses.