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Older people deserve better care

by
24 March 2023

The system is underfunded — this needs to change, argues Stephen Hammersley

Pilgrims’ Friend Society

The Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, visits Shottermill House, Haslemere, in Surrey, last Friday

The Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, visits Shottermill House, Haslemere, in Surrey, last Friday

THE stark reality that we are facing in the UK is that older people are being left without the support that they need or are entitled to. Recent findings by Age UK show that 2.6 million people over the age of 50 lack access to essential care. This heartbreaking reality results from a care system that is under extreme pressure and desperately underfunded.

The current state of care poses some critical questions about the UK. What is the worth of an older person in our community? What are we willing to invest in supporting them? And how much does society value its older generation?

Last Friday, the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, visited Shottermill House, Haslemere, in Surrey, one of the care homes run by the Pilgrims’ Friend Society. The visit took place just two days after Mr Hunt delivered his first Spring Budget (News, 17 March). As the MP for South West Surrey, he joined residents (or “family members”, as we call them) as they created a “Prayer Tree”, which included messages and prayers, and he spoke with them about the issues that affect them. He even left with a box full of written prayers: a “Budget Prayer Box”.

A year ago, as chair of the Commons Health and Social Care Committee, Mr Hunt stated that £7 billion a year was needed to ensure that the system worked well for all who needed it. So, like many others across the UK, we were keen to see progress towards that commitment laid out in this new Budget; but, sadly, that is not what last Wednesday’s announcement brought.


AS A Christian charity, we have a clear mandate that we share with the Church in valuing all people, who are made in the image of God. Our care is rooted in the aim of loving people as God has loved us. We can do that only because we augment state resources with our own funds. The underfunding of the country’s social-care system tells us that older people and their needs are undervalued.

We must acknowledge the rising demand for social care. The latest Census report confirms that the population of England and Wales continues to age. Over-65s number a record-breaking 11 million in England and Wales, which means that almost one in five people in the UK is 65 or older — a trend that is set to grow.

A growing number of older people need care, and this should be factored into spending decisions. This steady increase in the demand for care services is taking its toll on care staff. The staff shortage that the sector faces tells us that we need to invest more in carers. To value older people, we must value the people who support them as they age.

I hope that the human faces of those affected by government policies will help to make matters such as the Budget more rooted in consideration for the people involved. As it stands, the Government should provide more, in line with inflation and growing needs; systems are crumbling under the weight of an urgent need.

Earlier this year, Age UK reported that 2.6 million people were waiting for the care that they needed. The result is a daily struggle with the fundamentals of life, such as personal care, getting dressed, or eating, which can slowly strip such people of their dignity. If not addressed, this reality will only become more common as the UK population ages.


MANY will know someone in their later life who is navigating the challenges brought on by getting older. They may be going through a tough time, acclimatising to the changing circumstances that come with age. It is not easy, and it often makes people confront big life questions as they adjust to understand their varying capabilities. Some need additional support to get through these changes. Not having access to vital care is a real hardship.

From 2021 to 2022, more than 28,000 older people died while they were waiting for the care and support that they needed, Age UK reports. Financial indicators point to things’ getting worse.

The Government must now invest substantially in the dignified care that is needed by those 2.6 million people who are waiting for it. They are our neighbours, our family, and our friends, all created in God’s image. We need to pray, lead by example as we love them as ourselves, and use our collective voice as a Church and nation to call on the Government to act with urgency.


Stephen Hammersley is the chief executive of the Pilgrims’ Friend Society.

www.pilgrimsfriend.org.uk

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