IN THE 700 days after the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, promised a Green Paper on social care, in 2017, 54,000 older people died while waiting in vain for care, Age UK reported in February.
During the same period, the charity said, 636,701 were refused care outright, and 7240 others exhausted their savings to pay their care bills, leaving them reliant on the State to fund their ongoing care, with nothing to leave their families after their death.
Furthermore, 1,263,844 older people deteriorated to the point at which they could not do at least one daily act of living, such as washing or dressing, or getting in or out of bed: equivalent to 1805 people a day.
Many experts believe that cuts to social-care funding are leading to the rise in so-called “unexpected” deaths among the elderly. After 40 years of steady decline, since the cuts began, in 2010, mortality rates in this age group have been rising year on year. The biggest annual rise — the highest in 50 years — was in 2015.
Professor Danny Dorling, of Oxford University, who advises Public Health England on life expectancy, said: “When we look at 2015, we are not just looking at one bad year: we have seen excessive mortality, especially among women, since 2012. I suspect the largest factor here is cuts to social services — to meals on wheels, to visits to the elderly.”
BEHIND the figures are human beings struggling to cope: older people who have worked and done their best throughout their lives, many of whom fought for this country in the Second World War. Carers UK reports that, each day, more than 600 people resign from their jobs so that they can care for older and disabled relatives. This reduces income and puts already hard-pressed families under additional strain.
In January, Human Rights Watch published the findings of interviews with 104 older people and their carers in the UK, which suggested that older people were being denied crucial help — such as assistance with washing and dressing — because of unfair care assessments. This, it said, was “stripping England’s older people of their dignity and independence”.
One example is Keith Mulcahy, in Huddersfield, who fought for months for funding for continuing health care for his seriously ill mother, only for her to die weeks after he succeeded. “She couldn’t speak, feed herself, or move out of bed,” he told The Huddersfield Daily Examiner last month. “She was doubly incontinent, had pneumonia, and had suffered several strokes, and had to be lifted out of bed with a hoist.”
He said that social workers and others gave false information on forms to deny her eligibility. “It was clear to me that the false information had been no accident: it is a deliberate, concerted effort by NHS staff to deliberately block any type of health-care funding.”
Age UK reported the case of Jean, aged 87, who lives at home with multiple care needs. Social services said that she needed three care visits a day, and was eligible for funding. Months later, however, she is still waiting. The social worker said that care was not available at the moment, and that there were not enough carers. Her family is currently looking after her, but this is putting them under an enormous strain.
CHURCHES can play a crucial part in helping older people who are suffering; indeed, many already befriend the homebound elderly, and help with tasks such as shopping, cooking, and cleaning. Befriending an older person makes a huge difference to their well-being; but few are trained to help a frail older person out of bed, or help them with dressing, and getting to the lavatory.
But it is not right that, in one of the world’s largest economies, care for the elderly is not better funded. In addition to the day-to-day help that people give to older neighbours, we need Christians, and others, to campaign for better funding by writing to their MPs, and to raise awareness of the plight of older people in their communities through, for example, contacting the local press.
Only once the Government is forced to sit up and listen will older people, who have contributed so much to this country, be treated with the dignity and compassion that they deserve.
Louise Morse is media and communications manager for the Pilgrims’ Friend Society, and the author of What’s Age Got to Do with it? Living out God’s purpose at all ages (Lion Hudson, 2017).