Campaigner Ken Mack has been doggedly pursuing ministers to stop care homes evicting residents. Louise Hunt reports
Disability campaigner Ken Mack plans to continue being a thorn in the side of ministers in his one-man quest to prevent evictions from private care homes.
Mack is calling for legislation that will guarantee disabled, frail and elderly people security of tenure and continuity of care in a care home of their choice to end what he calls the “brutal and inhumane” evictions that have increased.
Undeterred by the latest polite but evasive ministerial response to his campaign, he has sent his second letter to health secretary Alan Johnson in two months, this time posting copies to the Queen, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Baroness Jane Campbell and Tony Benn among other figures.
“I am so concerned at the inertia of the government,” says 66-year-old Mack, who has been campaigning for the rights of disabled people for more than three decades, since having twin sons who were born with brain damage and a disabled brother.
This particular fight began when Mack’s mother-in-law, who had dementia, was evicted from a care home after only two months because the owners said the home was no longer financially viable. Shortly afterwards it was developed into luxury apartments.
“As a carer I know the importance of continuity of care. Elderly and disabled people should not be treated as a commodity,” he says. He also worries for the future of his sons, who are now 36.
Mack has become a figurehead for the cause, and presented a petition to then prime minister Tony Blair in 2004 with 26,500 signatures. He also wrote to all European heads of state seeking the introduction of EU legislation, although he received only three replies.
He says he receives hundreds of letters from people concerned that they may have to leave their care homes. “People are dying as a result of the stress of eviction,” says Mack. He pointed to the case of 93-year-old Alice Pink who, in 2006, took an overdose and died soon after being forced from her care home in East Sussex.
One letter he received from a coroner backed his belief. “He said he agreed wholeheartedly that the elderly should get the same protection in legislation as the young,” says Mack. But in a previous response from the Department of Health, former health minister Stephen Ladyman said there was no compelling evidence that when care home closures were managed well it was detrimental to the health of residents who are re-housed.
Mack’s hopes were raised slightly when, in its most recent reply in March, the DH conceded that it is clearly not desirable for someone to be forced from a care home in which they are happy and settled. But those hopes were quickly deflated as he read on “that it was simply not possible to ensure all homes are open indefinitely”.
This might seem obvious, but the extension of the Human Rights Act 1998 in April to protect people in care homes who are funded by councils, but not the 115,000 self-funded residents, sends out a confusing message. Mack picked up on a recent House of Lords speech made by Baroness Campbell, who questioned the sense in having people living side-by-side but being treated differently.
Mack, however, is not seeking a further extension of the HRA to cover self-funded residents, saying that the act has already failed to protect those it does cover from eviction. His ideal solution would be to restore care homes into public ownership. In lieu of this happening, he says he will continue to fight for a change in law.
“What is desperately needed is separate, independent legislation so that if you go into a care home you are guaranteed to have a permanent roof over your head.” He is calling on social care workers to write to their MPs to support his campaign.
He says the next step will be to await a response from his latest letter and “probably have another bash at EuropeI’ll continue to make a bloody nuisance of myself”.