Care Can’t Wait

Last week, Age UK presented Number 10 Downing Street with a petition signed by over 130,000 people calling on the Government to end the crisis in social care.  The size of the petition means it is likely that Parliament will be required to debate this important issue, bringing the needs of older people who are being let down by the care system to the forefront of all MP’s minds.

David Gower, who shared his personal experiences of social care in support of Age UK’s Care in Crisis campaign, attended Number 10 Downing Street to present the petition. He said ‘We need reform because we need to be able to help those who are unable to help themselves and there are many members of the United Kingdom’s citizens in this unfortunate situation. We do not and cannot afford to have a crisis where people at the moment are brought home from hospital, dumped in their flats and told to get on with it. It’s time to change right now.’

The next month is set to be critically important for all our futures, whatever our age.  Having been beset by delay upon delay, the Government has indicated that it will finally publish the Social Care White Paper either this Summer.  A Draft Bill will be published hard on its heels before the end of this parliamentary session in July.

Legislation and reform is urgently needed.  Social care provision is now at breaking point as chronic under-funding, a conflicting and confusing legal framework, and an ageing population have created a crisis in social care, betraying some of the most vulnerable people in society today.

But this historic opportunity to provide root and branch reform and funding for social care comes at a time of austerity measures, and serious economic uncertainty.

Ministers have indicated that the White Paper and Draft Bill will mainly deal with reforming and simplifying social care legislation, which will go some way to ending the iniquitous postcode lottery of care provision experienced by thousands of older people across England. 

But it is the issue of how to fund social care that remains the most critical, and most divisive.  Cross party talks have been underway since January 2012. Ministers and their civil servants will have engaged in long, hard discussions with the Treasury on the future direction of funding. 

It’s not clear at this moment in time, whether consensus has been reached, either within Government departments or across the political parties.  The Government has said that it will publish a funding progress report at the same time as the White Paper.  Age UK is hoping that the progress report will contain a positive response to the Dilnot Comisssion’s recommendations for a maximum £50,000 cap on the cost of an individual’s care, which will protect older people from the sometimes catastrophic costs.

Funding and reform of social care is one of the key challenges for this Parliament, and indeed this generation of politicians. 

Even set against the austerity measures, there are positive choices the Government can make.  Funding and reform of the current social care system will help older people stay healthy and independent for longer and reduce the pressures on the National Health Service. 

At this critical moment, Age UK is therefore urging the Government to use the White Paper, the Funding Progress Report and Draft Social Care Bill, as the foundation stones of a sustainable, and fair social care system.  After 25 years of political prevarication, resulting in trauma and loss for hundreds of thousands of people, it is now time to resolve the crisis in care, and guarantee dignity for each and every one of us.

Watch a video of David Gower explaining why he is supporting Age UK’s Care in Crisis campaign

Find out more about our campaign

The Take Action award: for people who stand up and speak up

At the Care and Support Alliance mass lobby of parliament a couple of months ago, I spent some time briefing Age UK campaigners before they went in to see their MPs. It was lovely to meet so many people who had taken the time and trouble to come to Westminster to make their voices heard.

Some of those I spoke to had done this kind of thing before and were feeling quite confident at getting their points across. For others, it was a new experience. I remember one woman in particular who was very apprehensive at the thought of meeting her high-profile MP. ‘I have to tell you I am really out of my comfort zone on this,’ she said, ‘But I just thought if I didn’t come down to London to tell my MP how important care is, who would?’

I really admired her courage in standing up and speaking out – which is what campaigning is all about. The really good news is when I spoke to her again after she had met her MP, she was a different person, full of confidence. ‘Yes, he really did listen to me,’ she said.

Age UK’s campaigns rely on people like her, who are prepared to take their courage in both hands and stand up and be counted. And we want to celebrate and encourage all campaigners in later life, whatever issue they are campaigning on.

That is why Age UK is supporting the Sheila McKechnie Foundation (SMK) in sponsoring the Take Action award for older campaigners again this year.

SMK was set up in memory of the legendary campaigner Sheila McKechnie, and is the only UK registered charity dedicated to connecting, informing and supporting campaigners. The Campaigner Awards are for people who want to make a difference and want some support in getting results.

Last year’s winner of the Take Action award was Kathleen Carter, an inspiring and determined campaigner from Stockton-on-Tees, who has challenged ‘payday loan’ companies who charge massive interest rates for short term loans.

You can read more about Kathleen’s experience here.

In the meantime, if you know of any campaigners who are aged 60+ and deserve recognition and the support that SMK can offer, please nominate them for this year’s Take Action award.

Launch of Care in Crisis campaign

The heat is on for social care. In recent days and weeks we have seen increasing coverage of issues showing how social care is creaking at the seams, and worse, that it often fails to support the most vulnerable people it is there for.  Stories of unmet need, abuse and market failure are rebounding in media outlets usually quiet on these issues.

Age UK has recently published its Care in Crisis report which shows the extent of the underfunding and level of demand that is facing social care, and we predict that it will only become more stretched in the months and years to come.

We will see unprecedented budget cuts to social care in the next few years (despite the extra £2bn from the Government to boost the shortfall) and the number of older people over 85 will increase by 66% in the same timeframe.  Demand will increase and supply will decrease, adding more pressure to an already overloaded system.

Which means now, more than ever, it’s critical that we have a successful proposal for reform, followed by concrete and decisive action by Government.  Age UK is looking forward to the early July publication of Andrew Dilnot’s proposals for the future funding of care and support.

Indeed this is our major beacon of hope – similar commissions have tried and failed to kickstart reform and these opportunities are rare.  It is vital that Dilnot’s recommendations are serious contenders for a future funding model so that in future we can be proud of our care system. Continue reading “Launch of Care in Crisis campaign”

Food for thought

A few weeks ago the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Congress dominated the headlines as nurses overwhelmingly voted in favour of a motion of no confidence in Andrew Lansley. While NHS reform was the main topic of conversation at the 4 day Congress, it was not the only issue being discussed.

Hospital food by celesteh, via FlickrWe attended the RCN congress to talk about a current problem in our hospitals – older patients becoming malnourished. The statistics show that the number of people entering and leaving hospital malnourished has steadily risen each year – in 2008-09 over 185,000 people left hospital malnourished.

The nurses we spoke to all agreed that this is a problem, but they disagreed over the cause. Many nurses believed that it is caused by the poor quality of food: “Have you seen the food they serve?” “The food looks like slop” are two comments we heard time and time again. Their proposed solution is straightforward – hospitals need to spend more on food so patients can have nutrient rich and appealing food.

While improving the quality of food will help, it will not fully solve the problem. Good quality food is important but hospitals also need to ensure that older people receive the help they need during mealtimes. What’s the point of having a five-star meal if no-one helps you to remove the packaging?

Older people regularly tell us they do not get the help they need at mealtimes – this help could be as simple as ensuring the food tray is placed within reach, to removing packaging as well as assistance with feeding. Without this support older patients go without food and often end up leaving hospital malnourished.

Nurses have told us that the biggest barrier to ensuring patients receive help is time – mealtimes are too short and there are simply not enough nurses to help everyone who requires support at mealtimes. There is no one solution to this; mealtimes could be staggered or extended, hospital volunteers could support patients during mealtimes or more nurses could be employed on wards.

What is clear is that immediate action is required to stop this scandal, otherwise the number of people leaving hospital malnourished will continue to rise.

Find out more about Age UK’s Hungry to be Heard campaign, fighting malnutrition in hospitals.

Stop taking the p… ?

‘Closing public toilets will save money, reduce drug dealing and stop vandalism.’

Public toilet on a street
Photo: Paul Brady under Creative Commons licence

If you read the local paper where you live, you may well have come across a headline like this. With massive spending cuts looming, many local councils are planning the closure of their public toilets. The British Toilet Association is expecting at least 1000 public toilets to be closed in the next year. That’s on top of the 40 per cent decline we have seen over the last decade.

It is true that public toilets don’t come cheap – upwards of £25,000 a year for toilets with an attendant. And it is also true that some toilets – particularly unattended ones – can attract graffiti and anti-social behaviour.

Closure can seem like an easy win for councils – a way to save money and deal with undesirable behaviour at the same time. But hang on a minute…

For many people – older people in particular, but not exclusively – clean and accessible public toilets make the difference between being able to go out (for a shopping trip, to visit the library or the park) and being stuck at home. Continue reading “Stop taking the p… ?”

Whatever you do, don’t cut care

All across the country, local authorities are holding talks on how they can reduce their spending. This is a result of, on average, 26% cuts to their central government grants budgets over the next 4 years. Tough choices are inevitable.

But as they work out where they can make savings by cutting red-tape, reducing services, or increasing user charges, councils must remain aware that the demand for many services, in particular social care, is actually rising due to our ageing populationContinue reading “Whatever you do, don’t cut care”

Cold comfort

It’s going to be a cold winter. Or at least that’s what I’ve read in the papers – based on varying predictions to do with cold wind from Siberia or lots of berries on holly trees. Or maybe just memories of last winter.

Age UK campaigners outside Parliament for Spread the Warmth day of action

Whether those dire predictions come true or not, I’m going to make another which will sadly almost certainly come true: tens of thousands of older people will die this winter. Those deaths aren’t inevitable. But they’re probably going to happen anyway unless we do something about it.

Figures from the Office of National Statistics released this morning showed 23,100 excess winter deaths of people aged 65 and over occurred in England and Wales last winter.  This rather clinical phrase refers to the number of extra deaths over the four winter months (December to March) minus the average of non-winter deaths (from April to July of this year and August to November of last year). The figure averages about 30,000 deaths every winter. Continue reading “Cold comfort”