I was planning a third post on France, but instead I’m having a rant. On Sunday I glanced at a headline, which stated that there was a radical plan for old age that had been leaked to the press. I got quite excited, but reading it made me want to bang my head on the table as it’s simply ‘oh, dear, the state cannot afford to fund people into their old age, so you, the old person, will have to pay for it instead.’ Errr, yes, I think we knew that!
My rant is, therefore, both about lazy journalism, and whether any social policy/old person expert really is a ‘radical’ thinker.
First off, the journalism. Look matey (it was a man) we’ve known about the ageing ‘crisis’, as in a lot of older people living on into their 90s and beyond, for decades. I was studying just that in my OU (Open University) course in 1982. I haven’t kept any of my course material, but I have a distinct memory of studying demography, and ageing populations in particular, across Europe with Germany having the largest number of older non-working people with not enough younger people paying taxes. Did you ever wonder why Merkel wanted so many Syrian refugees? Actually, they desperately need immigrants paying taxes to pay for their older people. (Memo to self – must find out more and write in My Other Blog about just this.)
OK, journalists have to write about something, and yes, there was a recent review in the UK on the costs of social care, and the article is referring to its conclusion that a person’s liability for social care be raised to £123,000 rather than the current £23,500. But, (and this is what the article is about) unfortunately, this is not going to happen. Well, what a surprise. Moreover, a recent Minister of Pensions (she resigned) is quoted as saying.
“It seems clear that we cannot rely on insurance companies to devise policies that will cover the costs of care for many of the population,”
Are you surprised about that either? Sadly, I’ve been here before. (And trying to get my cynicism down a notch). Yup. Around about the time Gordon Brown was Prime Minister I attended a conference in Brighton on a ‘radical plan’ for paying for older age care. An assortment of bods working with and for older people were put into small groups hosted by civil servants. Ours was so enthusiastic. He was like a puppy bouncing around delighted that they had come up with this radical thinking. But in actuality we were to discuss three different versions of insurance. I’m pleased to say that I was not the only one to think this not exactly the epitome of ‘radical’. So, this is about insurance, we said? Yes, he said. Isn’t it exciting. No, we chorused, it isn’t. Now what about (and honest I wasn’t the one who said this) what about cancelling Trident (our nuclear submarine) and funding social care from the defence budget – now that’s radical! Oh, yes, we said, that’s a good idea. Poor man. We weren’t keen on his three insurance ideas.
Anyway, the ex-Minister goes on, “I think an alternative approach is probably required to help more people prepare for care costs over the coming years. We should consider a savings solution.” Oh, the convoluted speech of the politician! In plain English it’s ‘use your savings for your care.’ Which presumes you have savings.
It might surprise some readers over the pond that us Brits expect help from the State, or not, maybe. But the State from a British perspective has been, up to quite recently, a benign entity that provides, from our taxes, education, health and social care as well as infrastructure such as roads and railways. Mind you, unlike health (and that is a huge subject in itself as the NHS is in grave danger from the neo-liberal ideas that are seen as the norm these days. But won’t go into that now) social care has always had a means tested aspect to it. And that coupled with the recent policy of austerity (now apparently discarded by May) has led to the criteria for receiving social care to be raised again and again. Which means that very needy people are hardly receiving anything at all.
And you’d need a lot of savings. In 2013/14 costs for a residential home place started at £29,250 a year and for a nursing home £39,300. But I know of nursing care places that start at over a £1000 a week. If you want to avoid this huge amount of money cascading out of your current account then buying in care so you can stay in your own home might be a way to do it and that starts at around £15 an hour. But don’t forget you’ll be expected to use the capital from your property as well as your savings before the State will help you. A sobering thought and one I think that a lot of us try not to think about too often.
But it’s the language of that article I object to – radical?! Policy makers wouldn’t know radical if it was dressed up as a custard pie and thrown in their faces. They’d say what is that, flick a hand over their visage, and then go on about the old, old story of ancient, sad, frail old peeps cluttering up hospital wards being ‘bed-blockers’ until they can be warehoused in old people’s places that should never be called a ‘home’ because they are so not.
Let’s be radical, please! Go on politicians and policy makers, I dare you. So far it’s all about money. But there are many ideas out there, such as encouraging younger people to share an older person’s house in exchange for low rent and some care hours. Or co-housing which encourages people to share a house and care for each other as they become old, and in Canada, that model has been called the ‘radical rest home’ – now that’s more like it!
And let’s think further outside the box. First and foremost, while we are living longer older people are also living sicker. This is not good – let’s be totally radical and think about a healthy old age. And spending on prevention. Including, my idea, which is, everybody over 65 having a Personal Trainer, who will teach each person exercises, personally designed to get that body moving, standing upright (I speak as someone who is crooked when I get up) and walking carefully without falling (I tripped over the duvet this morning). And actually that is a model being used in Denmark.
Another idea. Preventing falls is the biggest thing we can do for our older population – seriously. Once you break a hip – it’s not great. Here’s some info about falls if don’t know this already.
- 1 in 3 people aged over 65 will fall every year equating to more than 3 million falls per year. This increases to nearly 1 in 2 for community dwelling adults over 80
- Half of people who fall will fall again in the next 12 months
- 10-25% of fallers will sustain a serious injury
- Injury due to falls is leading cause of mortality in people aged over 75 in UK
- Recurrent falls are associated with increased mortality, increased hospitalisation and higher rates of long term care.
And actually, as good as my General Practitioner is, she laughed at me when I asked if I might join a class to prevent falls. But you’re too young! They’re all so old at that class, she said. And of course they’d already fallen – that was the criteria. I was talking about doing a class before I fall! Yes, I can hear you say, but there are classes, you could go to any time, like Tai Chi and Pilates. But do you keep your exercises up and do them all the time? Look, I think the Personal Trainer thing, and the resulting exercises designed for the person, need to be unavoidable and enforced in some way.
Now that last sentence is ridiculous, of course nothing like that should be compulsory. Don’t we say’live and let live’, and aren’t I always saying ‘you do and wear what you want’. But why not have a review on exactly that conundrum of how to improve the health of the not quite frail, rather than constantly fossicking about the financial side of care? Policy makers and politicians – why not listen to us, younger old people? Ask us what we want as we age. We might have some bright ideas – we might even come up with something ‘radical.’
With love and some exasperation!
Penny, the frugalfashionshopper