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Boring, Isolated And Lonely: Damaging Perceptions Of Care Homes

  • Demos polling reveals overwhelmingly negative perceptions of residential care with over half rejecting moving to a care home due to fears of neglect or abuse
  • Those working in care homes, or who know someone in one, hold more positive views – and are more likely to consider moving there themselves in later life
  • New Commission on Residential Care, led by Paul Burstow MP, is tasked with developing a ‘new vision’ for residential care and tackling public perceptions

Polling by the think-tank Demos reveals damagingly negative perceptions of care homes, with as few as 1 in 4 people considering moving there in their old age.

People of all age groups were asked which attributes they associate with care homes. The most common responses were ‘boredom’ (48%), ‘loneliness’ (42%) and ‘illness’ (38%).

Other negative sentiments, such as ‘isolation’, ‘abuse’ and ‘uncaring’, were all more common responses than ‘safety’, the first positive answer on the list of options, at 22%. Only 1 in 10 (9%) of responders associated care homes with ‘respect’.

The findings will feed into the Commission on Residential Care (CORC) – chaired by former Care Minister Paul Burstow MP and supported by Demos. The year-long Commission will tackle the most pressing issues in the residential care sector, and find solutions that are financially viable and meet the needs of a more diverse population.

The results also highlight a key goal of the Commission, which was partly set up to challenge misperceptions by promoting positive examples and best practice to dispel the notion of residential care being a ‘last resort’.

Fear of abuse

Poor public perceptions means only a quarter of people (24%) said they would consider moving into a care home if they became frailer in old age, compared with 43% who would not.

Over half (54%) of those who wouldn’t move into care said it was because they feared the risk of neglect or being abused, significantly higher than the percentage who didn’t want to have to sell their house to cover the costs (33%) or lose contact with friends and family (31%).

Nearly two-thirds of people (62%) listed ‘remaining independent’ in their top three priorities for later life. Being close to family (46%) and living somewhere easy to maintain (40%) were also popular considerations.

Breaking the responses down by age shows that the importance placed on independence almost doubles throughout a person’s life, increasing from 46% for 18-24 year-olds to 72% of over-65s.

Perceptions improve with experience

However, the polling consistently showed that people with first-hand experience of residential care generally held more positive views, and are more likely to consider care homes for themselves.

While only 24% of people on average said they would consider moving into a home in old age, this increased to 29% among people who said they knew someone living in a home already, and rose again to 39% among care home workers.

The polling also found:

  • The number of people who felt ‘living with family or friends would ensure their needs in later life are best met’ plummeted from over 40% among young people to just 15% for over 65s
  • Surprisingly, only 1 in 20 (5%) of young people prioritised being connected through technology in their old age, compared to 31% of over 65s.

Commenting on the findings, Deputy Director of Demos, Claudia Wood, said:

“The polling results have confirmed our fears that care homes are seen as something to be avoided and a last resort. Abuse and poor care are real issues in the care system, but we can’t assume that all care homes are like those identified in shocking TV investigations.
“The CORC is looking into different models of residential care in the UK and abroad – identifying where people have regained their social lives and a sense of community. Hopefully this good practice can be shared not just with the sector, but with the public, so that people can see that a good care home can make all the difference to older and disabled people who might otherwise lead very lonely, difficult lives in their own homes.”

Paul Burstow MP said:

“We know many thousands of people desperately fear being ‘put in a home’. They put off thoughts of a move and only realise how much support they need when their lives hit a crisis.
“But this delaying can be a further tragedy. Good residential care can change lives, helping people to reignite the interests they have lost, broadening horizons that may have narrowed and helping people to create new connections and friendships. They can, and should, be places of laughter and light, central within their communities and welcoming to all.
“I have seen countless fantastic examples of residential care and am passionate about making them the norm rather than the exception. That’s why I am proud to be working with Demos to Chair this Commission to support innovation, spread the best models of practice and, crucially, to take the fear out of the thought of care.”

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