A new report from Age UK, ‘ Behind the Headlines – the battle to get care at home’ illustrates the misery being experienced by many older people and their families, as they try to get the care at home they need.
Too often, they find themselves trapped in a nightmare of bureaucracy and kept at arm’s length by local authorities struggling to meet growing demands for care with deeply inadequate resources, a situation made much worse by years of budget cuts.
This new report by Age UK shows that the provision of homecare services has fallen by a massive 3 million hours since 2015.[i] The Charity says that this damning figure highlights the crisis facing many older people who are in declining health and in need of home care services. They say it is essential that the Government acts now to prop up the current system with substantial added investment, as well as bringing forward proposals for placing care on a sustainable financial footing for the future as it has promised to do later this year, in the form of a Green Paper (consultation document).
The average spend per adult on social care fell 13 per cent, from £439 to £379, between 2009/10 and 2016/17.[ii] It is not surprising that over the same period around 400,000 fewer older people received social care, as eligibility criteria were tightened by councils desperately trying to ‘square an impossible circle’ of rising demand and falling funds. The consequences for older people are increasingly severe, says the Charity.
A number of real-life stories from older people and their families who called the Age UK helpline are included in the report and illustrate how difficult it can now be for older people to assert their legal rights and access the home care they desperately require to live independently at home, even when they are clearly profoundly unwell and even at risk.
The same issues were heard time and again, from callers across the country, and are set out in the report:
- Long waits to get an assessment – the entry point to the care system
• Care services that are disjointed or simply unresponsive
• Social services declining to get involved
• Fundamental lack of capacity in the system
• Poor quality services and support
• Support and services being cut back, even though people’s needs have stayed the same or even increased.
• Vital help for families providing care being cut back.
Too often, local authorities were unable to provide basic care and support to older people in need of it, in some instances because there literally wasn’t any available for them to purchase in their local area – the development of local ‘care deserts’ that has long been anticipated and feared as social care has declined. Without urgent action the Charity says this situation will only get worse.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said:
“Three million hours of home care have been lost in the last three years because of Central Government cuts and the lives of many older people have been sharply diminished as a result. Our new report shows the appalling human consequences as councils struggle to do the impossible: meet growing needs for home care with grossly inadequate resources.
“Included in our new report are real life stories from older people like ‘Brian’, who had a care assessment by social services three months ago but hasn’t heard anything since, and is sleeping on the sofa in his living room because he can no longer manage the stairs. Brian says he feels suicidal and it’s no surprise.
“This is a crisis for many families too, like ‘Sally’s’, left to care for her deeply unwell father in law because the local council says there is no home care available in her area for them to purchase on his behalf. At Age UK we have been worried for some time about the possible emergence of ‘care deserts’ – places where it is impossible to find any care at all – and now it seems our worst fears have been realised.
“When the care market is so obviously broken, for the sake of older people the Government must intervene. Commentators say that Ministers want to give the NHS a 70th birthday present in the form of an enhanced funding deal. Quite right too – the NHS is buckling – but it is essential that they respond to the social care crisis at the same time. This is not only the right thing to do from a moral perspective, it makes good economic sense too: good home care keeps older people fit and well in their own homes and is far cheaper than a spell in hospital or a care home – the typical alternatives.”