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Elderly Care - A State Responsibility?

Elderly Care - A State Responsibility?

February 28, 2010

Is it right that our tax pounds go to subsidising care for the elderly, or should families pay a greater role?

It’s some sort of a national pastime in this country to blame the government for your problems, more so as election fever grips the nation. Don’t have a job – blame the politicians. Roof is leaking – blame the council for not fixing it. Getting too fat – blame the NHS for not providing adequate support to obese people. It’s remarkable how Britons expect mollycoddling by the government in every aspect of their lives and then have gall enough to turn around and say they are living in a nanny state, under constant scrutiny by Big Brother. Individual responsibility and conscientiousness, it seems, are slowly becoming extinct traits in this country. And nowhere is this more palpable than in the massive problem Britain faces of caring for its elderly where, as a leading newspaper put it, a ‘£6 billion black hole’ in funding is emerging. As somebody from India, where state-sponsored care is something unheard of, this to me is a unique problem.

According to The Economist magazine, one person in five in Britain will be over 65 years old and those over 85 would have doubled by 2026. Moreover, it quotes a government statistic which reckons that half of all men and two thirds of women will require care and support in their old age. At present many poor pensioners get free assistance through their local councils, who are already feeling the pressure of increasing demand and tight budgets. This, as uncovered by several media exposés, has severely compromised the quality of care (helpless grandpas lying in their feces for days on end, 90-year-olds being fed Quavers crisps for supper because the care worker is too strapped for time) which is very often outsourced to private companies who’ve bid the lowest amount.

The truth is, the government simply cannot afford to care for all its wise folk. And despite proclamations by Gordon Brown that he will establish a National Care Service, he is only too aware of what a gargantuan challenge elderly care poses at a time when the money taps are drying up and the number of pensioners is raising. No wonder then that this week, the Health Secretary Andy Burnham called for a cross-party conference to consider sweeping reforms of the existing system, whereby there would be provisions to make people pay for their own care through things like a mandatory state insurance scheme or the very innovative £20,000 death tax levied on your estate for those less eager to save during their lifetime.

Whichever of the plans floated is finally passed, there is undoubtedly going to be a huge backlash among voters who seem to think it is their god-given birthright to be cared for by the government so that they can leave behind an inheritance for their kids. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation at least a million old people, despite having a net worth of a £1,00,000 in the form of homes, still qualify for care benefits because they have insufficient liquid income flows to pay for their own care. Would it then really be a crime to levy a charge on these people after their deaths? I don’t think so.

On a broader level, though, even as discussions on how to monetarily solve this problem carry on, this whole issue taking political centre stage just stinks of how irresponsible and egocentric Western societies are becoming. It is yet another reflection of how we’ve shirked our responsibility and passed the buck on to the government when it should in fact be playing only a peripheral role in the whole affair. Caring for the aged is primarily a family responsibility, not a government obligation and we seem to have forgotten that. In India, like in many other countries, old people living and being cared for by younger ones in the family was, and to a large extent still is, the norm. It works well in keeping the family structure and support systems alive. Of course with large scale urbanization and the rise of nuclear families, things are changing. But since government care is largely absent in India (which isn’t exactly the way to go either, since there ought to be some way through either tax breaks, medical help etc to ease the burden on severely constrained households), families continue to fulfill their responsibilities, however inconvenient it may be to do so. The concept of old age homes is on the rise, but there is still a stigma attached to it, and it is seen as something meant only for the helpless.

And it ought to be, I think. What sort of justice is it to leave your elders rotting away in some care home, turning your backs on them when they need you the most? Over a 3rd of the older people in Britain live alone and 4,80,000 pensioners today are living in long-term residential care, having been forced to sell their homes to foot the average £25,000 bill annually. I rather sincerely hope this isn’t the way India goes as it becomes more prosperous and ‘Westernized’. Even with all its progress and changing social attitudes, thankfully family values still play a big role and hopefully will continue to do so.

At the end of it, however professional elderly care gets, no amount of it can compensate for the basic human feeling of being wanted and surrounded by loved ones when you are at your most vulnerable. At the most, reforms can ease pressure off the treasury and ensure better quality care, but it can’t tackle the basic problem that is the premise of all of this – a lack of psychological wellbeing among the elderly because of the isolation they face. Maybe it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee! After all, what goes around comes around and one day we all will be in the same boat…

3 Comments

  • mona
    By
    mona
    09.02.11 05:01 AM
    All my friend circle who is going towards fifty main afraid to endup in nursing home. Should we go back India since it is so disturbing to think about nursing home.
  • Joan
    By
    Joan
    23.05.10 08:13 PM
    I hugely admire the way family unity is a central part of life in India. I think in the UK there are epic numbers of people who either don't care, have never learned, or are beset with problems caring for their families. The philosophy of sharing and pooling time and resources together is rare or mostly absent. This doesn't just apply to our elderly though, it seems a cradle to grave problem.

    Nobody seems to be teaching and enforcing the importance of lifelong care and unity within families in the UK. Babies are being born into utterly broken families at worst and at best may grow up with relatives around but without any sense of keeping connections once they leave home.

    In my own family there is no sharing out of care, the 'duty' falls on myself for my elderly father which is a tremendous strain. I have had to seek intervention from other services because although I have capable siblings and relatives who could contribute, we are estranged, or they are simply too lazy. I gave up trying to enlist their help as it added to the stress of everything rather than made things better.

    Disfunction within families seems to abound. Taking and sharing responsibility and roles within families isn't just good for the sense of strength and wellbeing of ourselves, but for the country's sense of identity aswell. There seems to be so much family disfunction and breakdown that by the time we reach old age, we will be lucky if we are even on speaking terms with our siblings and other relatives.

    We don't have to subscribe to conventional family units/marriage etc to adopt a caring philosophy towards our loved ones. We have to learn again how important it is to give and recieve love and care at all stages of our lives. Unless we relearn how to care more for our families (and neighbours) what other options are there, except to ask our government to help?
  • Anamika
    By
    Anamika
    07.03.10 01:19 PM
    I feel really bad when i hear about parents been thrown out of the house or send to old age homes. Why don't the children get it into their head that 'what you give is what you get' and treat parents in a better manner. Elderly care, i feel, is not a state responsibility but the responsibility of their children.

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