A family grieving the loss of their 100-year old matriarch had their bereavement interrupted by the arrival of a ‘Notice to Quit’ letter issued to her address by South Essex homes. This, combined with a swathe of privatisations and welfare cuts targeting the elderly are turning the UK into Cruel Britannia.
The Eviction of a 100 Year Old Woman
The Southend Echo reports:
Hilda Sexton’s son and daughter-in-law may also have to pay hundreds of pounds for the outstanding rent at her home in Peartree Close, Southend.
Mrs Sexton died three weeks after her 100th birthday, on March 27, and although her benefits were stopped the day she died, South Essex Homes is likely to charge the family rent for the five- week notice period.
Michael Sexton, 67, and his wife Colvina, 66, of Saxon Gardens, Shoebury, also said South Essex Homes needed lessons in compassion after having to fill out forms explaining his beloved mother had died.
Speaking to The Echo, Colvina said:
“South Essex Homes, in its usual robotic way, has shown no compassion at all. It treats people like they are pieces of meat.
“The letter was totally insensitive.”
“Hilda was a very strong and feisty woman. There was no mincing of words with my mother in law.
“If she had known what was happening she would be very worried and upset. She has been a model tenant for 70 years, never paid late, and this is a slap in the face.
“We had been through quite a lot over the past four or five weeks and this really didn’t help matters. Then we got a notice to quit letter which was the last straw.
“Why do they need to send that when they know they are getting the tenancy back?”
South Essex Homes is an Arms Length Management Organisation (ALMO) that manages council housing on behalf of Southend Council. Their spokesman says they are sorry for the trouble caused and are building a new form for bereaved families.
“We were sorry to learn the family of one of our former tenants were disappointed with the response they received after they notified us of the death of the tenant” they said.
Missing the Point
What no one seems to be questioning here is the morality of this happening if Hilda Sexton had not died, but simply been poor? As a country with an annual GDP of £1.4 trillion – you would think we could scrape together to prevent the eviction of an elderly woman.
Even Sky News, hardly known for their Marxist editorial direction reported last winter:
More than 1.5 million British pensioners are now living in food poverty – and the situation is set to worsen this winter, according to new research.
The Centre for Economics and Business says a quarter of over-65s have had to make cutbacks on food over the past three years, and over one million are malnourished or at risk of malnutrition because they are struggling to afford basic nutritious food.
The reason is that while the cost of living has continued to rise, incomes have not kept pace.
Increasing food prices in particular have hit the elderly the most.
The study shows over-65s will spend an average of £699 on food between October and December this year – that’s an increase of £138 compared to the same quarter five years ago.
The reality is that the over-65s are bearing some of the worst consequences of ideological austerity. A recent study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that poverty in old age was also strongly linked to occupation. As their report states:
“…men who have spent most of their working lives in occupations such as clerical or sales, skilled crafts, and personal or protective services (ranging from police constables and paramedics to waiters) may be especially vulnerable…”
The Privatisation of the 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.
We Need to Regain our Compassion
The brutal truth is that from the perspective of true-blue Capitalists like Cameron – once a person without independent means hits retirement age, they become obsolete. As they can no longer provide their labour to a corporation or pay taxes, they become a burden. So by privatising care – they solve two problems.
- They turn a burden into a commodity
- They remove the care duties from family members who are now freed up to work
But what do we lose?
Well, we’ve seen some of the appalling human and financial costs above. But there is more. Rather than having the elderly members of our society integrated into our communities, they are literally shut away from the world. Either in care homes, or their own homes – they are tolerated grudgingly. We lose the connection to our pasts. We forget that these people are not some other species, but simply you and me, plus time. We sow the seeds of our own dystopian futures.
A society needs to cater for all its constituents. Neoliberals bemoan our ageing population as if it were a curse, rather than the success of the gold standard healthcare system, visionary and compassionate labour laws and environmental regulations rolled out through the latter half of the 20th century that dramatically cut mortality rates among the working classes. They are busy unpicking the rich fabric of our social democracy, turning it back to a ruthlessly capitalist country where yes, it is OK to evict a 100 year old woman from her home because…well…it’s just business.