No matter how old we are, we should all be entitled to a certain standard of care in society. Whether that is through education on our first day at school or when we spend time in a residential home when we grow old. But it seems the social care for the elderly is beginning to dwindle.
The spending cuts which took hold recently have begun to cause problems for local governments and the up-keep of old people’s homes and the care their residents receive. Many are experiencing staff redundancies or even closure, so where does that leave the elderly who call these places home?
The government cuts have meant many private care homes around the UK are demanding that old people and their relatives 'top up' their care fees with their own money which causes strain on their own personal finances.
And as the ‘baby boom’ generation grows ever older – although they may not all need residential care – there may be no money set aside by that time to cover the costs.
To put things into perspective, there were just 61,000 people aged over 85 at the beginning of the 20th century. Now there are over 1.5 million and 2.9 million people over 65 in need of care.
But until you find yourself faced with bills for residential homes, there is no way to prepare. Most people can’t afford the costs, leaving 20,000 people every year being forced to sell their house to help fund the care home fees. But, of course, not everyone has a home to sell.
Selling the house you call home – where you raised your children, where your grandchildren took their first steps, where you made so many memories – is a tragedy.
Although it should be seen as a last resort, people often have no other possessions of great value which they could sell in order to pay for the fees.
The government spent £142 billion on the elderly in England last year, but only 6% of the funds went towards social care. So where did the rest of the money go? Shouldn’t the welfare of the residents in care be the priority?
According to Age UK, public sector commissioners are underpaying for old people's care homes by a total of around half a billion pounds. From their research, they found that funding for social care for old people is being cut annually by £610m. The government, however, disputed these findings.
The charity also found that the social care net expenditure per person over the age 65 in 2010/2011 was £864. Now, in 2011/2012 it is down to £791.
This leaves the average loss per resident at £60 per week, which, when you think about the number of people who make up the older generation, means a constant deterioration of funding.
George Tapp, founder of the group Trade Unionists and Socialists Against Cuts based in Salford, believes the elderly are being mistreated.
He is setting up a campaign, ‘It’s Not a Crime to Grow Old’, to ensure the older generation are looked after and not jeopardised in society.
He said: “I just don’t see how a member of the BNP can appear on Question Time, but the BBC refuses to let an elderly representative voice their opinion. It’s obvious they know the old people have a lot to say, and they’re worried.
“We’re putting things into place to ensure the voices of the older generation are heard. We’re all going to be old one day and we shouldn’t be mistreated just because of our age.”
According to Salford City Council, a residential care home in the area is a ‘home providing for the unique and complex needs of individuals and having the facilities to deliver an individually tailored and comprehensive service, assuring a good quality of life and health for service users.’
This is what the council says, but many believe – and not just in Salford – that the social care for the elderly is far from high quality. If this is what people are thinking now, then what will they think when many residential homes are forced to make cuts and raise the fees?
Abbey Grove is a private residential home in the heart of Salford. Sarah Smith, senior carer at the home, said the cuts haven’t been a problem for them yet.
She added: “We won’t be topping up our fees. Some of our residents have been here a long time and are comfortable, so if it did eventually come to fee increases, their families might be willing to pay a bit extra if they’re happy here.
“They wouldn’t want to move them and cause them any unneeded stress. If the cuts did mean redundancies and staffing levels going down, then I would try and stand by Abbey Grove. I’ve worked here for 13 years so, fingers crossed, it won’t come to that.”
Private residential homes seem more popular than government-funded homes. This may be due to the fact that most local authorities have withdrawn from running old people's homes.
In 2005, half of all councils in England provided support to older people with moderate needs, but that has now dropped to 18%. Instead they will fund places in private homes for those assessed as in need of care and who meet the rigorous means-tests.
These tests assess if a person’s savings and property are worth more than £23,250. If so, then they need to pay for the care costs in full, including personal care and accommodation costs.
The people with savings of less than £14,250 qualify for local funding care, but the amount they pay will depend on need. If a high level of nursing care is needed, they could be entitled to a donation from the NHS of £108.70 a week.
But, according to Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, “Privatisation is not the solution.”
It seems, unfortunately, that the social care for the elderly has been hit hard by the government cuts, and the older generation are not usually the most outspoken of groups. So who will speak out for them? George Tapp is certainly trying, but it will take more than just one man, in one small area of one city in the north of England to make a difference.
I just hope that the government cuts to the elderly social care –which seem inevitable – will be dealt with appropriately with the interests of the old people themselves as priority. The majority are presumably unaware of the current threat to their residential homes and I predict the effects on their well-being could be serious.