By Rob Woodward: I am over sixty years old. My parents are both still alive and in their 90s. The full force of the social care or more accurately, the elderly care crisis is upon me. And no matter how resilient I am, how organised and used to managing complex projects – nothing prepares anyone for this.
They’ve had an easy run but won’t admit it. They say they’ve been the hardest working, unlike the youth of today without recognising the huge economic advantages they were given that my children will never have. They voted for Brexit because there were no consequences for them – but there are for my children. They voted for Johnson and for Truss – again, no consequences for them, whilst mortgage rates rocket. They have triple-locked pensions and final salary pensions that my children will never hear of. And now, after years of warnings, they refused to move home to prepare for later life and their collapsing world is left for me to clear up.
Academics and think tanks alike have been warning our government and this ageing demographic for decades of the ticking timebomb that is old age. No one listened – and here we are. That generation has never earned enough money or paid enough taxes that dents the cost of their care. They moan if having to sell their home to pay for their own care.
But now, they are practically interned in every town and city across the nation, broadly speaking out of sight in care homes.
And the numbers are frightening. Right now, there are almost 11 million people aged 65 and over. That is 19 per cent of the total population. In 10 years’ time, this will have increased to almost 13 million people or 22 per cent of the population.
Officially, there are already 5.7 million unpaid carers looking after family members across the UK. However, research by Carers UK in 2022 found that the number of unpaid carers could be as high as 10.6 million (Carers UK, Carers Week 2022 research report). Astonishingly, 4.7% of the working population in England and Wales are providing around 20 hours or more of care a week. One in seven carers juggle work and care (Carers UK, Juggling Work and Care, 2019) and as at 2020, people aged 46-65 were the largest age group to become unpaid carers. And all these numbers are rising rapidly.
Millions of people stare at daytime TV with next to nothing going through their unstimulated minds at enormous cost.
Carers face the worst of dilemmas. They stop some or all of their work to look after a loved one, who eventually will go into a care home, where the average cost in England is now over £1,100 per week. The carers are unable to earn their career potential, save money or contribute as much to their pensions – whilst their inheritance disappears before them. That’s assuming there is one in the first place.
There are men and women in their seventies and beyond, truly struggling to cope with the crisis of daily life as fading spouses drive the realities of an era that has brought us better longevity but terrible health outcomes that society is not prepared for.
For me, the fear of ageing has become all too real, too early. I am reminded every week of what my future will likely be for me or my wife. Not only is there currently no cure for Alzheimer’s or any other form of dementia, there is no legal way out either. Politicians are cowards and have consistently backed away from the subject of elderly care and the subject of dying with dignity. They have, however, reduced the description of what mental capacity means – in order to push more people that really do need care back home.
The reality is that not only are the elderly, their carers and those in the industry struggling, but the government has little to no idea of what to do about it. When workers in care homes can earn more stacking shelves in Tesco, you know the industry is in trouble. Figures compiled by CSI Market Intelligence showed that 247 care homes closed their doors in 2022, while 123 new businesses opened. It was the lowest number of new entrants to the market for years, and 23% down on openings in 2021. And this is in a market where 13,000 hospital beds are being used by the elderly who are good enough to leave but with nowhere to go. And as each day passes, demand increases.
I have no idea what the solution is. Perhaps an offshoot of the NHS – a ‘National Care Service’ may focus more effectively on the problem.
Local councils, local providers and the government are at odds. All are driven by money or more importantly, the lack of it. Politically, it is no longer possible to say that all the elderly people needing care and support are a hidden minority as we all know someone affected by it in some way. To be clear, 20 per cent of anything is hardly a minority.
At present, anyone with assets over £23,250 must pay for their care, but that depends on the council. Local government is supposed to arrange funding the rest – but when you enter this financial nightmare, nothing is that simple. This system is at best described as muddy and opaque.
Whilst no one should believe anything Boris Johnson has said or promised – he, like Blair and May had a plan. All failed to commit, and nothing has happened, except it has all got very much worse each year. And still, no one is lestening.
I’ve sold my parent’s home with the sole goal of providing enough cash for them to get by comfortably – but if they both eventually end up in a care home, they will burn through at least £100,000 a year.
The biggest threat to the elderly is the easiest thing to suffer from – a fall. It’s the biggest cause of all the things that rob older people of their independence, and then they end up in hospitals and care homes.
And whilst falls cost the NHS £2bn a year, the fallout (no pun intended) is much more costly. The NHS deals with the immediate problem, and from there, it’s all downhill. Most GPs look the other way when it comes to care homes. District nurses and home help are so massively overstretched there is a high probability no help will come.
Analysis from New Age UK shows that 28,890 older people died in 2021/22, the latest year for which figures are available, without ever receiving the care and support they were waiting for. This shocking figure equates to 79 deaths every single a day, 554 a week. With a 15 per cent vacancy rate in the care industry, this is hardly surprising. In 2021, 7,000 people waited more than six months for a social care assessment but just one year later the timebomb actually went off but more like an implosion.
Age UK summarises this implosion – “More than one in four (28%) people who had asked for a social care assessment are now waiting six months or more to get one. These assessments are just the first step in securing social care, suggesting that some older people in desperate need are waiting even longer before they actually receive support. For some, it clearly arrives too late.”
More shocking is that these delayed assessments have helped to precipitate a situation in which an estimated 2.6 million people in England are now living with some sort of unmet need for care as they age.
This implosion is becoming more clear as we look further into the smoke – where the debris litters every facet of the system and the fallout is a death rate with an unsustainable system that benefits no one. This is causing a new form of anxiety for our ages. Not just the very elderly, but their carers and taxpayers. These issues are no longer creeping up on us, they are here right now. Turning a blind eye is no longer an option. There is no escape route – we are all becoming blighted by the one thing that humanity can be proud of achieving in the last 100 years – doubling the span of the average human life.
But who is it that will be brave enough to really investigate and tell us the truth of this new reality and try to tackle it? Who will be brave enough to legislate and allow those who no longer wish for this torture to continue to end their existence with dignity? What we are really facing are religious bigots and the craven gutless souls inhabiting our failing political system who willfully do nothing because it suits their own agendas.