Is it just me…?

Editor in Chief, Robert Chamberlain considers how the UK is becoming a bleaker place in which to grow older.

According to the latest report by Public Health England, we can all expect to live for longer. The statistics are region specific to a degree but, in general, men can now expect to live to the age of 84 and women until 86. What great news. That is, if our later years are in good health. Unfortunately, the prospect of growing older with care needs in the UK is looking bleaker and bleaker without Government action.

Home Alone

Age UK’s latest research, How much would it cost to meet the unmet social care needs of older people in England? shows that hundreds of thousands of older people currently face unmet care needs and ‘chronic’ loneliness. This is, of course, largely due to the raising of local authority eligibility criteria and budget cuts to social care services.

Of those receiving no assistance towards their care needs, the report states that they are two thirds more likely to suffer loneliness when compared to those receiving at least some support. A link is made between leading such a miserable existence and susceptibility to illness. The logical conclusion drawn is that tackling such loneliness will not only improve quality of life but also reduce demands on health services.

Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s Charity Director stated, ‘Our social care system is in decline and failing to keep pace with our growing older population, leading to more older people with care needs going without formal help. Now, we can see from our analysis that this is adding to the problem of acute loneliness among older people too. These statistics are a challenge to Government policy and they are a wake-up call for the rest of us too: they mean there are a lot of very lonely and isolated older people around us, and we all have a responsibility to do more to help them. Government should fund more local support for lonely older people and restore our crumbling social care system.’

As a result of its findings, Age UK delivered a petition to 10 Downing Street to call for Government action to address this growing crisis.

Creaking Services

Even for those older people lucky enough to receive some care and support, services such as 15 minute home visits are hugely inadequate for their needs. There is a decline in the number of ‘care hours’ being provided and, amid the current financial crisis affecting the sector, there is little optimism that things will improve.

Ahead of the impending Budget (due to happen whilst CMM is at print), where the possibility of further cuts are likely, I found the Institute of Public Health’s (IPC) new paper an interesting insight into the effect of cuts on social care. Written by visiting Professor John Bolton, the research examines the impact of cuts in six councils.

Each of the councils studied had managed a minimum of 20% reduction in budget spent on social care, in the four years to 2014/15. These cuts were achieved through a number of measures including:

  • Squeezing prices paid to providers (20%).
  • Staff reductions (20%).
  • Reduction in Supporting People grant funding (20%).
  • Demand management/promoting independence (25%).

The paper’s conclusions make important reading in relation to further savings and their major impact on care services. Professor Bolton concludes that there is little or no scope to make further cuts in fees paid to providers (with the exception of high-level learning disability or mental health care) or through the increased use of personal budgets. Interestingly, there is ‘little sign’ that integration with health has saved money.

Counterintuitive

When will the Government realise that its current fragmented approach to funding care and health makes little sense? Investing in tackling loneliness and greater social care support for older people is the way to reduce the escalation of needs and, therefore, reduce pressures on NHS services. This long standing counterintuitive approach beggars belief and surely cannot continue.

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