More than 54,000 older people died waiting in vain for care in the 700 days following the government’s announcement of a new Care Green Paper. After Chancellor Philip Hammond’s 2017 promise, 54,025 older people died waiting for their care to begin, and 626,701 were refused care outright. In the same period, 7,240 older people exhausted their savings to pay for their care bills, leaving them reliant on the State to fund their ongoing care, with nothing to leave for their families after their death. In addition, 1,263, 844 older people weakened to the point where they could not do one of their daily acts of living, such as wash, or dress, or get into or out of bed, the equivalent of 1,805 people a day. The figures were in a report by age UK[i]
Many experts believe that cuts to funding social care have led to many more ‘unexpected’ deaths among the elderly. Since cuts began in 2010, after 40 years of steady decline, mortality rates in this age group began to rise. The biggest annual rise, the highest in 50 years, was in 2015. Oxford University Professor Danny Dorling, who advises Public Health England on life expectancy said, ‘when we look at 2015 we are not just looking at one bad year. We have seen excessive mortality, especially among women, since 2012. I suspect the largest factor here is cuts to social services – to Meals on Wheels, to visits to the elderly.’[iii]
Tragedies behind closed doors
Behind the figures are human beings struggling to cope. Hundreds of people leave their jobs each week to care for a loved one (Carers UK), [iv] reducing the family income. Families do their best, but the strain on them is enormous.
In January, Human Rights Watch also give examples of people left to struggle, when they published findings showing that ‘Unfair and improper care assessments are stripping England’s older people of their dignity and independence.’ [v]
Keith Mulcahy, In Huddersfield, is an example. He fought for weeks for funding for continuing health care for his seriously ill mother, only for her to die weeks after he succeeded. He says, ‘She couldn’t speak, feed herself or move out out bed. She was doubly incontinent, had pneumonia and had suffered several strokes, and had to be lifted out of bed with a hoist.’ He claims that social workers and others gave false information on forms to deny her eligibility for funding. Mr Mulcahy said, ‘it was clear to me that the false information had been no accident, it is a deliberate, concerted effort by NHS staff to deliberately block any type of healthcare funding.”[i]
A daughter caught between looking after her mother who had broken her hip and her father in law who lived a distance away said, ‘He was a sweet man. He had cancer and was on oxygen and he’d been promised care but died on his own while he was still waiting for it.’ Age UK tells of Jean, 87, living at home with multiple care needs. Social services said she needed three care visits a day and was eligible for funding. However, she’s still waiting for it, months later. The social worker said that care isn’t available at the moment and there aren’t enough carers. Her family is currently looking after her, but this is causing them an enormous strain.
When we give talks to Christians in faith groups or churches it’s clear that many want to help and are befriending the elderly homebound and doing what they can, such as shopping, cooking and cleaning. Befriending an older person makes a huge difference to their wellbeing. But few are trained to help a frail older person out of bed, or help her dress and get to the toilet.
On America’s Statue of Liberty is a plaque that says, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” We, at Pilgrims’ Friend Society, feel like holding up a Liberty-like torch and saying, ‘Give us your frail, your weary, your older people longing for practical and spiritual support!’ We thank God for our supporters, who donate and pray for us, because without them we would not be able to do what we are doing today. But we know the need is greater, and is growing.
Surely, as one of the world’s largest economies, our country could fund its elderly care better than this? Christians are told to expose the things that happen in darkness – Ephesians 5:11. One thing we can all do is write to our MPs, and where we find injustice, do as Mr Mulcahy did, and contact the health journalist in the local press.