In a nutshell - SONG: Network for Social Change

It is without question that the aging of Germany’s population is of serious concern to our society.

The number of people classified as young seniors will climb to nearly 5 million by the year 2030. The number of those classified as very old will grow from 3 million today to nearly 8 million by 2050. In particular, the increase in those over 80 years of age places a considerable strain on the health care system in general, and geriatric care in particular.

With rising age comes an increased chance in becoming reliant on care. Traditional family structures, which to a large extent continue to ensure the long-term care of family members, are likewise expected to change in the future, leading more seniors to require professional, non-family member care.

As the number single households rise, fewer older people will be cared for within the traditional family unit. Society will have to deal intelligently and pragmatically with the increased number of seniors and the elderly living alone, as the number of family members able to provide care decreases. This will also mean a resultant increase in the use of community care or nursing homes, home care and assisted living services provided by professionals.

Senior citizens have become more self-sufficient and increasingly want to decide for themselves when and if they will require care with their activities of daily living (ADLs). When people, both young and old, are surveyed about what they think their future concerns with growing older will be, personal independence, secures settings, and a familiar living environment are three of the main survey responses.

The traditional view of an “old people’s home” does not appeal to many active seniors. They want to live as long as possible in their own home. However, they are aware that they may one day need additional care but lack the family structure in place to provide it. They also see nursing care as too expensive.

The future of autonomous living for the elderly depends on the reduction of institutionalized forms of living and assistance, and on the development of homes that can be converted as its residents grow older to suit their unique living and medical needs. This means changing how and where new construction is built and developing strategies for modifying existing living structures. This takes on particular significance against a background in which the scope of a person’s actions are reduced with age and the house and neighborhood become the person’s most significant socio-spatial context.

In light of these developments, six high innovative thinkers from within Germany`s social economy have joined forces to form the Netzwerk: Soziales neu gestalten (Network for Social Change) – in short terms SONG  - in order to contribute to the sustainable advancement of a social infrastructure which embraces the interplay of innovative forms of care and cure settings and social-service delivery structures already in place within the modern welfare state. This will on the one hand contribute to a more and more demand-oriented scope of social services and on the other hand to a new governance of welfare. Moreover these evidence-based developments have a share in forming a sustainable social infrastructure within a modern European Social Modell.

The network partners have already developed alternatives to traditional nursing homes. These community-oriented dwellings and living quarters (gemeinwesenorientierte Wohn- und Assistenzmodelle) offer a diverse array of cure and care options. They are highly innovative projects which respond to the challenges of demographic and social change.

Network partners are also calling for a reduction in the increased rate of privatization and overregulation common today in the social realm. As an alternative, they advocate for renewing efforts to strengthen primary support systems such as family and community aid. Network partners share the same conviction: we can ensure future social services benefits only if they are shaped and guided by values such as solidarity, subsidiarity, competition, and individual civic responsibility. Such an approach has ultimately more meaning and impact than simply relying on the provision and consumption of government welfare benefits and social transfer payments.

We need to ensure that the changing expectations among the elderly regarding where and how they will live into their later years affects housing and long-term care policy. The developing social infrastructure needs to take into account the consequences of demographic and social developments.

The alliance’s objective is to help guide the political debate and offer ideas based on the experience of its partners.