1 in 10 Older People are Reducing or Stopping their Social Care

One in ten UK older people are reducing or stopping their social care or expect to do so in the coming months as they struggle with the cost of living, storing up big problems for the NHS

More than 1 in 5 (22%) older people are already reducing or stopping spending on medications or specialist foods or expect to do so in the coming months, and 1 in 7 (15%) are skipping meals or expect to do so over the same period

To protect both older people and the NHS Age UK is calling on the new Government to restore the triple lock and raise benefits and social care funding in line with inflation at the Autumn Statement on the 17th November.

“Sometimes I don’t take my painkillers or eye drops because they are too expensive. I cannot afford them.”

“I have widespread arthritis and am virtually house bound and I feel the cold. If heating costs increase as predicted, along with increase in food bills, I’m not going to be able to pay my bills; I’ll have to cut back on everything. I just don’t know how I will cope”

New polling[i] from Age UK finds that 10% (1.6 million) of over-60s in the UK are already cutting back or stopping their social care, or expect to do so in the months to come, because they can’t afford the cost. This particularly affects older people who pay for their own care, but in England even those whose care is supposedly funded by the State often have to pay ‘top ups’ to their provider, so some of them are likely to be impacted too.

In addition, 22% (3.6 million) of older people are already reducing or stopping spending on medications or specialist foods or expect to do so in the coming months; and 15% (2.5 million) are already skipping meals, or expect to do so over the same time period.

Given these worrying statistics it is not surprising that the same polling found that more than half of over-60s 54% or 8.8 million people said they believed that cost of living increases would affect their health and care needs over the winter. Unfortunately, they are probably right.

The charity believes that taken together, these findings are the worst possible news for the older people affected, and for the NHS, because they suggest financial problems will undermine their ability to look after their health in the months to come, at a time when our health services expect to be under unprecedented pressure.

The polling also coincides with a new report by Age UK, which asks and seeks to answer the question the charity hears from growing numbers of older people in England: “Why Can’t I Get Care?”. A big part of the explanation is that a staggering 14,000[ii] people each week are having their requests for care turned down by councils, most of which are overwhelmed by growing demand and have only static or reducing resources with which to respond.

Furthermore according to ADASS[iii] between November 2021 and February 2022 there was a 28% increase in the number of people awaiting assessment, care or direct payment, or a review. The report highlights the vast numbers of unpaid carers who are holding up a crumbling care system – providing hours of care for their loved ones, often at the expense of their own health and wellbeing. And the pressure on them is increasing and the worry is that growing numbers of unpaid carers will buckle under the strain, leading to a collapse of their care arrangements, which will then have to be picked up by their local council.

This new data comes after the Care and Support Alliance (CSA), of which Age UK is a member, recently found that 2.6 million people aged fifty and above are now living with some form of unmet need for care in England. This is the best estimate so far produced of the numbers of people in mid-life, as well as above State Pension Age, who require assistance with one or more activities of daily living, like washing and eating. The charity says that to have so many older adults going without the support they believe they need shows it is imperative that we expand the availability of good, affordable care in England, so that more people who require it can actually receive it – something that cannot happen without Government action to improve the pay and conditions of care workers, and to give councils more funding so they can reduce waiting times for assessments, and charges for care. The charity says that the Autumn Statement is an important opportunity in this respect and the Government would be wise to take it.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity director at Age UK said:

“It is alarming that well over a million older people are already cutting back or stopping their social care across the UK, or expect to do so in the months to come, because they can’t afford the cost. This is potentially disastrous because if you are an older person with care needs, this support is not a ‘nice to have’ but essential in enabling you to stay fit and well. Cutting back or stopping care in this situation threatens to pile extra pressure on the NHS, our hospitals especially, as it greatly increases the chances of serious ill health and injury.

“Our survey findings that even greater numbers of older people are cutting back or stopping medications or specialist food or expecting to do so, or skipping meals or expecting to do so, because of money worries, only add to our concerns.

“Without the care they require, frail and unwell older people are more likely to fall, become malnourished and dehydrated, fail to take their medication, and become seriously ill because an emerging health problem will not be noticed early enough to nip it in the bud. Care workers are the only visitors many such older people receive each day and they play a vital role in sustaining their mental and physical health. Without them, it’s inevitable that some older people will suffer, invisible and unseen, behind closed doors.

“Trying to save money by deliberately missing meals or cutting back on the specialist food they require, for example because of coeliac disease, is also likely to undermine an older person’s health at a time when they need to stay strong to ward off the cold, plus all the winter bugs.

“The problem is that the cost of living crisis has made everyday purchases much more expensive and many older people living on low and modest incomes are finding it impossible to cope, with worse likely to come as they need their heating on more during the chilly weather.

Rising prices are hitting care providers too and they are increasing their fees accordingly. Older people without much money face really difficult choices about how to afford the basics and some are now clearly choosing to reduce or give up their care, because this seems to them like their ‘least worst’ choice, though it carries appreciable risk. As one older man said to Age UK, “I’d rather be warm than clean.

“It’s terrible that we have reached a position in which the best financial option for some older people is to forego the care and support they rely on, or indeed a square meal or the pain killing gel that makes their knee pain bearable, but high prices over the coming months mean we can only see many more finding themselves facing this predicament. That’s why the Government must restore the triple lock, and raise both benefits and social care funding in line with inflation at next week’s Fiscal Statement. There’s no doubt that not to do so would be a false economy so far as the NHS is concerned, as well as severely jeopardising older people’s health. The new government must understand just how high the stakes now are.”

 

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