Care Time Bomb
True words from Alice Thomson of the Times. Time will indeed tell, and I agree with her when she states;
“Politicians don’t want to confront the cost of caring for the elderly but that only makes the burden greater”
Pimp my Zimmer is the latest craze among the elderly. With the help of schoolchildren, care home residents have been decorating their walking frames with tinsel, foam bumpers, plastic flowers and knitting, resulting in a 60 per cent reduction in falls in some homes. The grey metal bars are hard for many to see and tricky for people with dementia to recognise. It helps to raise a smile and encourage a helping hand when residents make their way down the high street with their sparkling frames.
British scientists, too, are striving to improve the lot of the frail and elderly. This week a team announced that they have successfully tested a drug that suppresses the rogue gene behind Huntington’s disease, and the method might also eventually help to treat Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
But these are rare glimmers of hope for the very old in Britain. This was supposed to be the year in which the elderly and social care became priorities. All parties recognised that there was a crisis, with local councils saying they were barely coping, care homes closing in unprecedented numbers, and carers increasingly limited to spending only 15 minutes with the house-bound.
People with dementia spent 500,000 extra days in hospital wards
Instead, many of the most vulnerable in society have been effectively abandoned. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, 1,400 people with dementia face spending Christmas in hospital because of a lack of care home places or carers to visit them. Those with dementia should be celebrating around friendly, familiar faces rather than on a ward, where they often feel confused and frightened.
The society has found that people with dementia spent 500,000 more days in hospital last year than they needed to, despite being well enough to go home. Some pick up new infections and become so fragile that they die before they are discharged. According to the Royal College of Nursing, one in ten nurses surveyed have witnessed people with dementia trapped in hospital for more than a year. With one million people predicted to have the condition by 2021, the situation is becoming more alarming.
After examining the social care sector in a series for The Times last year, I didn’t believe the situation could get any worse, but it has. The biggest care home provider, Four Seasons, which looks after 17,000 elderly residents in 350 homes, is now on the brink of bankruptcy. Rising staff costs due to the increase in the national living wage, a fall-off in applications for nursing jobs from EU nationals, and lower council contributions have made it almost impossible for care homes to survive, let alone thrive. A third are now judged to be at risk of financial failure and 90,000 jobs in the care sector are vacant. The struggling NHS can’t keep picking up the pieces.
Despite all this Theresa May last week quietly shelved the only remaining promise to the old. Jackie Doyle-Price MP, the health minister, told the Commons that the government is scrapping the £72,000 limit on care costs for the elderly which was supposed to be introduced in 2020. This cap had been promised by Cameron and May, following recommendations by the economist Andrew Dilnot back in 2011.
Mrs May’s so-called dementia tax caused fury on the doorstep
It is easy to understand why the prime minister is reluctant to return to social care after the fiasco of this summer’s general election. Her manifesto commitment requiring individuals to pay the costs of their old age until the value of their assets fell to £100,000 caused fury on the doorstep and was dubbed the dementia tax. But there is a reason why the Tories included it in their programme for government.
Social care will only get bigger as a political issue as society continues to grow older. Instead of seizing the chance to be honest with voters about the costs involved, the Conservatives have decided to bribe the young by freezing tuition fees and helping them to buy their first home. Students may be struggling but there isn’t a crisis in universities. The young may increasingly have to rent but they are not dying at home alone.
All of us need to prepare for old age, and none of us can do it until we know what contribution the government will make. According to research by Just Group, a financial services firm, around 3.8 million people have delayed making financial plans for their residential care until the government sets out its policies. The longer ministers delay, the more older people will fail to prepare, leaving the next generation to pick up even larger bills.
By the end of this parliament there will be a million more people in Britain aged over 75 than there were at the start of it. The only way forward is long-term care insurance which the Japanese have already successfully introduced. There it is partly funded by a 1 per cent compulsory social insurance levy on all those over the age of 40. Users then contribute a 10 per cent co-payment towards the cost of the service. The Japanese have accepted the price because it has given them peace of mind for their parents and themselves.
One worried Conservative MP told me that care for the elderly now dominates his constituency postbag. “I haven’t had a single thank you letter from a student but endless ones from the elderly who are frantic about what to do as they reach the end of their lives,” he explained. “How you treat the young may affect the future of the country. But how you treat your elderly is a barometer for the kind of nation we are.”