Dutch forced to volunteer so ageing relatives get care

Dutch forced to volunteer so ageing relatives get care
Henk Hom (right) poses on September 16, 2013 with his father (centre) in a retirement home in Stolwijk, center of the Netherlands.

STOLWIJK, Netherlands - "Cup of coffee, Mrs Lubbers?" Henk Hom asks a 92-year-old pensioner at the provincial Dutch retirement home where he volunteers so his own father can have a room.

Here, just outside the central city of Gouda, the "society of participation" is slowly replacing the "classic welfare state", part of a social revolution heralded by King Willem-Alexander in the name of the Liberal government last month.

While the Netherlands is still considered one of the best places in the world to be elderly, with most care paid for by mandatory insurance, the generous Dutch welfare state of the late 20th century is definitely on its way out.

Instead, people are increasingly called on to provide a service in exchange for society's benefits, along the lines of the "Big Society" concept championed by Britain's conservative-liberal coalition. And in a historically Calvinist country like the Netherlands, a "moral obligation" carries a lot of weight.

When the Wilhogen retirement home first floated the project of trading volunteer work for care with relatives of their elderly clients, most were enthusiastic about the idea. Some needed a "talking to", but only one family decided to take their relative elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Mrs Lubbers is happy to accept the offer of coffee as she sits peacefully in her electric wheelchair in the living room of the retirement home in the village of Stolwijk.

"Nice and black please, Henk," she said.

Henk, 45, is an agricultural supply wholesaler. In order for his father, 80, also called Henk, to have a room here among the flat green fields, the son must work here for four hours a month.

Henk's work is social rather than medical.

"Speaking to people, listening to the people here," he told AFP.

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