Age Concern and Help the Aged: more cash for older people vital

The economy is in meltdown but money has been found to turn it around. It is time social care had a massive injection of cash, writes charity director Michelle Mitchell (right)

Older people’s care and support is facing meltdown and will become worse without more money and radical reform. A green paper is expected this year and the Care Quality Commission promises to tighten regulation and enhance quality but 2009 presents many challenges for care and support services. An ageing population, the recession and floundering political will all make the prospect of radical reform less likely and add pressure to a system that is already failing too many older people.

Living longer a fact to celebrate

Over-60s now outnumber the under-16s and while living longer is a fact to celebrate, people are not necessarily living these extra years in good health. Men can now expect to live 6.9 years with a disability and women 9.2 years. The need for enhanced quality care is growing at a time when the care system is already struggling to cope with existing demand.

One Voice, Shaping Our Ageing Society, a report from Age Concern and Help the Aged, shows that low-level home care support has fallen by 7.8% in the past year, while those who do receive services are often dissatisfied with the volume and quality of care. Funding for care homes also continues to decline. A £37bn black hole in public finances will mean cuts to frontline public services regardless of who has to the keys to No10 at the General Election.

Economic factors

The economy is the number one issue of concern but this does not mean we should ignore other important issues. We cannot wait for an economic upturn before investing in what is a chronically underfunded care and support system. Some £1bn to 2bn is needed now just to plug the shortfall that exists. This must be part of any fiscal stimulus to revive the economy and support employment. Although this is a large investment, it is only about 2% of NHS spending.

The government has made some progress over the past few years and we share many of its laudable goals. A concordat on care and support promised a transformation in the way social care is delivered and an increased emphasis on early intervention and prevention. There is the government’s historic step of promising an end to age discrimination in health and care services. This must be followed by radical reform of the care and support system. Inaction in the face of what we all regard as a system that is unfit for purpose would be unforgiveable.

Michelle Mitchell is charity director at Age Concern and Help the Aged

Published in the 9 April 2009 edition of Community Care under the heading ‘Now bail out social care’ 

Read more about Age Concern and Help the Aged’s report

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