Tree Road, Brampton, Cumbria, CA8 1UA info@bettal.co.uk

Do we care enough for our older people in society?

Home News Do we care enough for our older people in society?


As much as we welcome, Philip Hammond, the UK’s Conservative chancellor of the exchequer, £650million additional grant funding for local authorities in England to spend on services for older people and adults with long-term disabilities in his 2019/20 Budget. It is hard not to draw the conclusion that this is a pittance of the amount required to provide quality care services and respect the dignity of our older people.

Mr. Hammond claims this will help ease the ‘immediate pressures’ faced by social care services. But only £240million of this money is earmarked for propping up the social-care system. While the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services has been lobbying for £2.35 billion after enduring year-on-year funding shortfalls.

According to Labour MP Frank Field, co-author of‘A New Deal to Reward Kindness in a Forgotten Profession’, cuts to local-authority budgets have resulted in a ‘race to the bottom’ in the commissioning of paid-for homecare provision. The inevitable result is poor-quality, rushed personal care.

Emily Holzhausen of Carers UK says unpaid carers, some of them pensioners themselves, who are typically looking after other elderly family members, are ‘exhausted, demoralised and have lost vital community connections because there is not enough good-quality care’. They are ‘the backbone of the care system’ without whom ‘the system would collapse’, agrees Ian Hudspeth at the Local Government Association.

The King’s Fund says the system not only needs to make improvements in the quality of care that is provided, but also needs to find more resources. These will be needed to address an estimated additional 1.2million people’s unmet care needs, and to find an expected 700,000 more social-care workers by 2030 as the ageing population continues to grow.

Finding new and innovative ways to care for people

New, more efficient and innovative ways of providing care do need to be found. This needs to go alongside a better way of managing the demand on services, with an approach that is more preventative and also integrated with health, housing and benefits systems. A balance needs to be found between formal support, provided or commissioned by the state, and informal support that comes from family- or community-based care.

These are not just technical questions for the social-care sector to grapple with. They are far bigger than that, touching upon the issue of what kind of society we want to live in, and what we expect of each other. At root, there is the issue of what we regard as individual and collective responsibilities; and what the duties of the young are to the old; and the question of how elderly people come to decide for themselves how they should be cared for later in life.

A pervading sense of negativity towards older people in our society

The bookmakers Paddy Power have been criticised for its adverts portraying old people as zombies, albeit as part of its UK sponsorship deal with the TV series The Walking Dead. It is meant to be a joke, but older people’s charities didn’t find it very funny. Such ‘inaccurate stereotypes’ are described by Independent Age as ‘crass and utterly disrespectful’.

Some of us might be tempted to laugh this off as yet another overreaction from the permanently offended. Ofcom has yet to decide whether the four complainants (yes, four!) about the Paddy Power ad are enough to justify an investigation. And yet, this depiction of old people is not an isolated incident. It reflects a broader prejudice today.

‘Negativity about ageing and older people is pervasive in our society’, says Caroline Abrahams at Age UK. Whether it’s the nasty sentiment that Brexit voters are a bunch of selfish old bigots whose demise can’t come too soon, or that Baby Boomers have been piling up problems for moaning millennials, or that old people are just getting in the way with their ‘bed-blocking’ and their unreasonable expectation that younger folk should subsidise their state pensions, free bus passes, TV licenses and winter fuel allowances – again and again, we see generational disdain for older people.

Add in the damning inspections, abuse scandals, cuts to services, underpaid care workers that have so plagued the social-care sector in recent years, then it is hard to escape the conclusion that elderly people are increasingly regarded as a burden on society and a drain on resources. Once, they were seen as the repositories of wisdom and a source of support for hardworking families – now they are talked about as a barrier to youthful flourishing.

Summary

There is increasing economic evidence and a pervasive negativity in our society that sheds light on how older people are viewed in our modern society. This is not helped by the government of the day continuing to delay its decision on the funding of social care, and failure to acknowledge the valuable contribution of unpaid carers. We need to be wary of some in our society, who have a generational disdain for older people.

Technology and improved working practices in themselves will not solve the question of the kind of society we wish to live in. It seems to me it is incumbent on all of us to recognise the valuable contribution older people can make to our society, and in doing provide a purpose to their life. We need to harness the experience of older people as a resource to the benefit of all who live in our society.

Acknowledgements

Dave Clements adviser to local government and founder of the Academy of Ideas Social Policy Forum.

Albert Cook BA, MA & Fellow Charted Quality Institute
Managing Director
Bettal Quality Consultancy