A report by Age UK on Monday suggests that despite claims by Government that they are increasing funding for elderly care, the level of demand has outstripped funding as more and more people are living longer but with increasing levels of dependency. The report suggests that in the last half decade the actual funding has stagnated, while in the same time a quarter of a million more people need care. Age UK estimate that the spending on elderly will be £7.3 billion this year, but needs to be nearer £7.8 billion.
Furthermore, local councils appear to be treating care of the elderly as a lower priority, diverting funding away to other services, while increasing charges for care, such that many face poverty just paying for essential help with washing, dressing and shopping. An increasing number from a generation who grew up in the post-war austerity of this country, and helped rebuild it, as their parents had helped fight for its freedom, are being left destitute and unsupported. This is in the face of a seemingly never ending barrage of reports criticising the poor quality of nursing and social care for the elderly in this country, and by attempts to cap and reduce benefits for the disabled, dwindling pensions, collapsing social support from families, increased life expectancy (but not health expectancy), etc. etc. It is not a great time to grow old in Britain it would seem.
No wonder some now look upon assisted suicide and euthanasia as the only viable alternative. Some, I fear would see that as not only more compassionate but also cheaper and frankly less of an inconvenience.
It can be hard work looking after older people with health needs or disabilities. I know, because I was a district nurse and a senior staff nurse in an acute medical unit for elderly men for several years. But no more so than caring for any other group, such as children – and I should also know as I have been a parent for even longer! But just as we find joys and delights in parenting alongside the testing and trying bits, so caring for our elders brings positives alongside difficulties. I learnt so much from my grandmother and mother in their last few years of life about that quiet generation who grew up before and during the last world war, and their willingness to just get things done, however hard things got. I learnt from elderly patients from this and other nations about what it was like to live through the great moments of our world’s history in the 20th century, and about the joys and sorrows that await all of us as we age. My life is richer for knowing them all.
So why are we, as a society, underfunding and institutionalising our elders? I could ask a similar question about the appalling struggles facing those with disabilities, especially children, whose parents have to fight doggedly for every single service and area of support (again, something I know only too well from the experiences of close friends and family). Maybe we are afraid of growing old or facing disability in a youth obsessed culture? Maybe we are so self-absorbed that we would rather not deal with problems that seem millions of miles away, and maybe we are happier with the bread and circuses of reality TV and celebrity scandals, than face the realities of what is happening to the vulnerable?
Or maybe we do care, but our governments just think we don’t. (Do the elderly and disabled vote in large enough numbers to sway the parties I wonder?) Whichever way the truth lies, we need to seriously rethink where our priorities lie before we find ourselves abandoned in our dotage!