UK left to grow old disgracefully
Caring Times, September 2014
Older people have backed calls for better representation as a new report reveals the devastating impact of failure to address demographic change.
Neglect, loneliness and inadequate care funding are just some of the reasons why older people’s charity Anchor has issued a rallying call to transform the way services are planned and designed for older people.
The case for change is set out in its Grey Pride Manifesto, published at the end of July, which supports growing calls for a Minister for Older People. The charity’s report shows 77% of over-65s agree that one individual in the Cabinet should be dedicated to the needs of older people. Support for such a role is also prominent among younger people with 62% of 18 to 34 year olds who expressed a definitive view backing the move.
The research commissioned by Anchor shows that young people and over-55s agree social care funding and adequate care for older patients in the NHS are the main concerns for later life. The current situation, outlined in Anchor’s manifesto, suggests why: social care funding has been cut by over a quarter in the past four years while nurse to patient ratios in hospitals are lower for older people.
Anchor says these issues would be tackled more effectively by one individual in government having responsibility for ensuring we are better prepared for our ageing society. At the same time, the report recommends that an Older People’s Commissioner should be appointed to investigate issues and hold government to account.
The appointment of a commissioner was backed by 73% of over-65s. Such a role is already in place in Wales and Northern Ireland. Anchor chief executive Jane Ashcroft said society was in desperate need of a better response to an ageing population – for the benefit of the older people of today and tomorrow.
“Successive governments have failed to address these issues and without radical change we face an old age of increasing polarisation, suffering and loneliness,” said Ms Ashcroft.
“It is for this reason we are calling on Government to appoint a Minister for Older People in the Cabinet who can lead the cross-departmental approach, as well as a Commissioner for Older People to champion older people’s needs.
“We are not calling for a new Ministry to be created – we would like to see an existing Cabinet role expanded to address critical issues that require debate at the highest level.”
Anchor called on government more than two years ago to appoint a dedicated Minister for Older People, after 137,000 people signed a petition. In June 2012 MPs voted in favour of a motion calling on the Government to consider making such an appointment. Some of these issues outlined in Anchor’s manifesto include:
- Institutional ageism in health – older people’s hospital wards regularly have one nurse for 10.3 patients on average, well below Royal College of Nursing recommendations for safe care. On children’s wards the ratio is one to 4.6 patients.
- Lack of appropriate retirement housing – 58% of over 60s who want to move say they can’t because of a lack of supply of retirement property.
- Care in crisis – over the past four years, social care budgets have been cut by 26% despite a 14% increase in demand for support.
- The dysfunctional relationship between health, social care and housing. In 2012-13, patients spent 833,000 days longer in hospital than necessary because of delayed transfers.
- Mobility and transport. Older people face a disproportionately high incidence of fatalities or injuries caused by road accidents or while using public transport.
- Retirement, older workers and the workplace. Ageism in the workplace if widespread – 41% of young people say there are not enough jobs for older people to be in work.
- Technology and the internet. 70% of over-65s do not have access to the internet.
Care England chief executive Professor Martin Green said there was systemic discrimination against older people in society.
“We need a Minister for Older People at the centre of the Government, challenging every department to ensure equality of access for older people to all services,” said Prof. Green.
“It would be particularly good to complement the ministerial post with a Commissioner who would hold the system to account and ensure that older people received dignity, equality and fairness.”