Place in sun loses shine

As retirement homes go, the Mediterranean has many obvious attractions. Unfortunately, social care isn’t among them as British expats have begun to find to their cost. And not only to their cost, but to the cost of their host countries which are finding the burden difficult to bear.

Nearly one million retired people are thought to have escaped the humdrum of work for a life in the sun only to find that, as they become frailer, health and social services in Shangri-la aren’t what they had hoped.

In an unlikely metaphor, our man in Majorca and Menorca, the British consul, Paul Abrey, warns of a “massive iceberg” of cases growing beneath the serene surface of the Med. He sees about 10 cases a month, many  presumably having been turned away by the authorities locally, but expects plenty more to fetch up on his doorstep as the cash-strapped Spanish crack down on the incomers. A sizeable number will have developed  conditions such as dementia and will have to return to this country to be treated.

It might be argued that our EU partners in southern Europe should take responsibility for ailing Brits in the same way as this country does for their citizens. Surely we have a mutual duty of care. But many of our sun-seekingpensioners have failed to register and the numbers are such that an influx  back to the UK is almost inevitable.

While the impact on social services here should not be exaggerated, it still promises to be what the Association of Directors of Social Services described as a “huge drain” on resources. With the budget crisis already going from bad to worse – this week’s Local Government Association/ADSS finance report shows social services spending running at £1.8bn more than the government has allowed for – this wholly unanticipated reverse migration will be difficult to absorb.

Of course, health and social services will have to cope as best they can. It will be yet another item on the list of unbudgeted costs to be presented to the government.

But it is a further reminder in this globalised age that, even in social care, our island fastness is no protection against rapid change. Europe is a future source of service providers (as our story revealed last week) and of  claimants too – even the ones we thought had waved us goodbye.

● See Care for returning expatriates could be major drain on council finances

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