Last week, Age UK launched its General Election campaign – Dignity in Older Age – which aims to tackle some of the key issues that millions of older people continue to face. Things like difficulties accessing the care and support they so desperately need, living in poverty and struggling to make ends meet, and facing a later life of loneliness.
Throughout the campaign we’ll be covering some of the issues in depth, this week we are focusing on the crisis in social care. In this article, Caroline Abrahams discusses how many older people in their 80s and above are currently being abandoned by the care system.
Despite the tremendous contribution our ‘oldest old’ have made over many years to our society as citizens, workers, parents and grandparents, when they in turn come to need some extra support many are effectively being abandoned by a social care system that is demonstrably unable to cope.
Research by Age UK found that – not surprisingly- 926,000 of all those aged 80 or older in England have difficulty with at least one activity of daily living – tasks like washing, eating, getting out of bed, dressing and going to the toilet. These are things that most of us take for granted, but for significant numbers of the UK’s ‘oldest old’ they are sufficiently challenging as to mean they cannot be accomplished without some support and assistance.
It would be reasonable to expect that this support would be readily available to these very old people at their time of need. Sadly however, 794,000 of the people in this position are either receiving support that does not fully meet their care needs, or are getting no support at all.
Astonishingly, this means nearly 1 in 3 of the entire 80 plus population have some element of unmet need for care.
Even worse, for those among the 80 plus group who are coping with at least 3 ADLs – meaning they have really substantial difficulties – more than half (56%) are also either receiving help that does not fully meet their needs, or no help whatsoever.
Behind these striking statistics are the stories that we hear every day at Age UK, of older people who are being left to fend for themselves when really this is too much to ask.
Take for instance Janette and Simon, both in their 80s. Janette was diagnosed with dementia ten years ago, and she becomes easily confused and occasionally so agitated as to become violent, if she is unable to recognise her husband of 60 years, and sole carer, Simon. Speaking to Simon, it is immediately clear just how devoted he is to his wife but, understandably, he sometimes finds it difficult to cope and he is very tired. Yet there is no help available for him. Surely we should be doing better; it is unfair to expect Simon to carry all of the responsibility he does, day in day out, essentially alone.
Last year Age UK produced figures which showed that the number of older people in England who don’t get the social care they need had soared to a new high of 1.2 million – up by 48% since 2010. And earlier this year, as part of our report, ‘The Health and Care of Older People in 2017’, we presented an analysis showing that 37% of older people aged 80 and over like Simon, who are informal carers, are providing 20 hours or more of care a week, while 34% are providing 35 hours or more. The vast majority do so willingly, but they need more help.
The list of current deficits in social care is a long one and the end result is that the dignity as well as the health and wellbeing of significant numbers of older people is being seriously undermined. This is despite the hard work of the social care workforce.
All of this comes as we at Age UK launch our own manifesto for change, “Dignity in Older Age and a Later Life Worth Living”, with a particular focus on ensuring that those older people who are furthest away from a fulfilling later life are a top national priority for help.
So far as social care is concerned – an area which would put top of our list of policy priorities right now – we believe that this will require the next government to pursue a twin track approach: being prepared to invest emergency funding to keep social care on the road now, while simultaneously developing an effective plan to ensure a sustainable financial future for social care in the longer term.
In the run-up to the General Election we are calling on all of the political parties to finally defy history, put the needs of our ‘oldest old’ at the heart of their plans for government, and commit to resolving the crisis that is engulfing social care, once and for all.