This week, 81 year old Gloria Foster suffered a lonely and excruciating death from starvation and thirst having been left without her essential care for nine days. Mrs Foster is yet another of Britain’s elderly people abandoned in their hour of need, by a government that has taken to shooting it’s wounded.
The Disgraceful Death of Gloria Foster
Gloria Foster was a former secretary who required four daily care visits to take care of her most basic needs after she was left debilitated by stroke. She had no children and her husband had died thirty years previously. The company responsible for her care, Carefirst24 had been raided by the UK Border Agency after allegedly employing illegal immigrants and the local Surrey Council assured all current clients would be taken care of. However, Gloria was found starved, dehydrated, with severe bed sores and a faint pulse after being left for over a week stranded in her home unable to move. One can only imagine the fear and desperation one might endure alone, immobile, unable to reach a phone to call for help, use the bathroom, get to food or water for over a week. Speaking to the Sutton Guardian, her friend Ann Penston said that the care from CareFirst24, who had looked after Mrs Foster for several years prior to the raid, had always been of the highest standard. One cannot help but see the wave of unnecessary suffering unleashed by this raid. Prior the raid, Mrs Foster had been cared for, several people had been gainfully employed, and the company had been paying its taxes. After the raid, the company will face closure, the former employees now unemployed and facing possible deportation or likely to disappear out of the system, and Mrs Foster has suffered a slow and painful death feeling lost and alone. Who exactly won?
Yet this terrifying story is just one among many as our government abandons a generation of elderly people to the whims of market forces.
The Free Market Doesn’t Care
With the population of elderly people rising as more of us are lucky enough to make it to old age, managing down the costs of care home places and in home care, whilst ensuring the highest standards of care should be a central policy of any government. However, the coalition policies seem to be achieving quite the opposite aim.
In the UK today over 90% of all care home provision (up from 61% in 1990) to elderly people is in the independent/private sector after the public sector was encouraged to outsource provision in an effort to cut costs. The same period has seen an astronomical rise is the cost of care home places.
Today, the average cost of a single room in a care home has risen to over £27,000 a year. This is higher than the average UK annual wage (£26,000) and more than double the average annual pension income of £13,208. In fact since 2011, care home costs have risen at twice the rate of inflation, whilst standards of care have slipped.
This has meant elderly people who had paid for their homes in the hopes of leaving an asset for their families, have had to sell their homes simply to have their most basic care needs met for the final years of their lives. It is estimated that 40,000 elderly people a year are selling their homes for just this purpose, in aims to cover the average £100,000 care home costs to cover the final years of their lives. Whilst the coalition plan to implement a £75,000 cap in the contributions a person makes to their care home costs, a) they have stalled the policy until after the next election and b) it won’t include accommodation costs, which are the bulk of the issue. This is no help at all.
One might expect that for these breathtaking sums we might have the finest care home in the world. Yet, last year, the regulatory body for the UKs care homes The Care Quality Commission (CQC) published a damning report that showed that more than half of all elderly and people with disabilities in care homes were being denied basic care.
The report showed that people suffering incontinence were waiting more than two weeks for a consultation on their condition in more than 40% of care homes for the elderly surveyed. One might think perhaps this was some failing, but this was classed as success; 40% of the care homes surveyed set themselves a target of 90 days (that’s three months!), to make such a basic check up for a resident.
More worrying is that the data used for the study only covers 2010, so does not even take into account the sweeping cuts implemented since. This is the sorry state of care the elderly lived in prior to the ideological austerity we have seen sweeping the UKs public services. Things did get worse; over 40 care homes were closed down by the Care Quality Commission last year for providing sub standard care including: verbal & physical abuse of patients, medicines not being managed safely, poor sanitary conditions and a lack of medical and nursing care.
Cuts, Cuts and More Cuts
In the same week that Mrs Foster lay dying as a result of failures in the care system, Birmingham City Council announced crushing half a million pound a year cuts of provision of home care for those like her. Birmingham is not alone. The Mayor of Bristol approved the Council’s decision to close eight of its eleven council run care homes last month. This week two further closures were announced in Peterborough. In fact the same wave of closures is taking place in Haringey, Anglesey, Maldon, Argyle & Bute, Ilkeston, Derby, and many other towns and cities up and down the country as austerity drives council’s to cut costs despite growing need.
Meanwhile, the private sector is doing a terrible job of catering for the care of elderly people too. Infact, there has been an overall drop in care homes places of more than 4% since the Coalition took office, that means a little under one in every twenty care homes in the UK has closed. Most of this has happened quietly, but there have been notable large scale closures such as large care home companies such as Southern Cross going into insolvency. This has largely been blamed in the failure of local councils to afford the rises in the costs of care brought about by high property rents and other increased costs.
However, surely the bigger problem is that this important service was ever abandoned to the whims of these market forces at all. If we built and owned the care homes, changes in rents would make no impact on care costs. If we properly integrated the care of elderly people into our state social care system, we would not need to meet the rising prices of external providers trying to make ever increasing profits. If the care of elderly people was a matter for all of us, under the responsibility of government we could better hold people to account for their failures. Instead we have abandoned our elderly people to the whims of market forces; they suffer the indignity of not having their most basic care needs met and have to sell their homes for the privilege.
There is a crisis in the care of our elderly people. Home care and care home costs are rising, whilst government support and standards of care are falling. So while the bankers who bankrupted Britain pop the champagne corks as bonus season begins, the elderly people of Britain face an unnecessary deprivation to pay the bill.
The Abandoned Elderly Need You
As with so much of what is happening now, the bottom line is we need to become more active and involved citizens. Yes, many of us were raised to ‘not do politics’ and we all have things going on in our lives. However, these excuses are going to pale into insignificance in the face of the family of a Gloria Foster or the next victim. Why did we stay silent when a generation of elderly people was condemned to wait out their days impoverished and uncared for?
The biggest difference you can make is to get involved. Check by performing a simple web search if there are plans to close care homes in your area and petition you local government. Join those voices of dissent. Follow organisations like Age UK and support their campaigns to make a difference. Volunteer to read, talk to or otherwise entertain elderly people at your local care home and you could make a difference in someone’s life for as little as an hour of your time once a week or month. Do anything but for goodness sake do something.
Campaign to End Loneliness – an inspirational idea to create connections between the generations and put an end to loneliness in old age.
Compassion In Care – seeks to ensure that care is compassionate across the country, check out their website to see how you can support.