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Who cares about the elderly?

For our senior citizens who have worked hard and lived responsibly, retirement ought to be a happy and pleasurable time of life but sadly this is not true for an increasing number of them. We have an ageing population.  By 2037 almost a quarter of the population will be over 65. We are living longer but the incidence of multiple long term conditions, sensory impairment and mobility issues mean that many will need some form of social care. How will this be provided?

Barbara Keeley, the Shadow Minister for Mental Health and Social Care estimates that 1.2 million elderly people in need of some level of care are not receiving it. She attributes this to the cuts that have been made in local government during the period of austerity since 2010. The Local Government Association suggests that there is a funding gap of £2.6 billion and pressed the Chancellor to provide local authorities “with the funding to ensure we have a fair care system which ensures the care our loved ones need goes beyond just helping them to get washed, dressed and fed, but to supporting them to live dignified, independent lives, as well as alleviating the pressure on the NHS”.

Historically the first line of care was provided by families but for a variety of reasons this is not always the case today. Families may now live a significant distance from their parents and grandparents, having moved to find work and affordable housing. Both partners in the younger generation may have to work to pay the mortgage and maintain their lifestyles, leaving little time for caring even if they live close to their parents. One not unusual example of this involved a woman of 89 who was medically fit to leave hospital but was trapped there for six months because her 90 year old husband could not cope and the community healthcare worker failed to find her a suitable nursing home place.

Care homes are ideally part of the answer to ‘who cares?’ but those that are not expensive may be struggling to balance their books now they have to pay the living wage. More than 100 private care homes have closed since 2010 and others are struggling as a result of cuts in local authority social care budgets of up to 50%. Research by the charity Independent Age also revealed that 52% of British adults believe the quality of care in these homes is poor and abuse and neglect is common. A third of respondents cited personal experience. Raising standards in care homes means increasing the social care budgets of councils and Independent Age is calling for a £15.9 billion increase.  Closer integration of the health service and social care is part of the solution but the Government is reluctant to meet these budgetary demands as they struggle to eliminate the budget deficit they inherited in 2010.

From a Christian perspective this is dire. The fifth Commandment tells us “honour your father and mother” and the O.T. law instructs us “to show respect for the elderly” (Leviticus 19:32). St Paul goes further, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, especially for his immediate family, he has denied his faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (! Timothy 5:18). Broken and single families may struggle to follow this teaching and the state has to accept their responsibility. That means increased taxation to pay the bills and our taxes are already the highest for 30 years. The question is ‘how much do we really care for the elderly?

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