Opinion: Some excellent news from the Mendips

A while back I highlighted the threat to a hugely effective Citizens Advice Bureau programme that reaches the hard-to-reach through their doctors. I've got good news.

Mendip CAB's GP Outreach Project was almost out of cash, despite multiplying an £88,000 lottery grant 12-fold into £1.1m in benefits, grants and equipment for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of mainly old or disabled people.

The lottery made it clear it would not help, other sources of funding failed and - despite a donation from local doctors, who could see the tremendous value of the GP Outreach Project for patients' health and welfare - the advice service looked set to close, leaving needy people in poverty.

But the doctors came up trumps again, helping Mendip CAB make its case to Somerset's primary care trust. The PCT now has a duty to tackle health inequalities, such as the needs of the elderly and infirm, the disabled and housebound, so the GP Outreach Project is a great help.

Almost a year's funding for the work in the Mendips has been agreed. From that slim foundation, the hope is that additional partnership finance can be found to extend the service county-wide, using its multiplier to deliver extra millions directly to the most vulnerable. Pausing only for a resounding "hurrah" at such a positive result, what lessons might be drawn from this saga? Let's go through only the first five. First, the Government needs independent actors to clean up its mess in benefits, housing, poverty and more, yet few will pay for the mops.

Second, the PCT's duty to demonstrate its efforts in fighting inequality is an opportunity for charities to help enhance individual rights and meet institutions' expanding responsibilities in areas such as health, disability, gender and race.

Third, with such quantifiable results, is this actually perfect territory for a social enterprise or even a for-profit, always providing the beneficiaries don't end up paying a percentage of their new benefits?

Fourth, cash is so often the best assistance, helping those in need, from rural Britons to Africa's refugees, access what they want, not what others think is best for them.

And finally, of course, you can lead the lottery to excellence, but you cannot make it think, whether about the need for sustained and core funding, or merely about bending its rules to reflect success.

Nick Cater is a consultant, speaker and writer: catercharity@yahoo.co.uk.

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