Last week the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) issued a Report that has a new take on an old and worsening problem about the way elderly people living at home are cared for in the U.K. Their inquiry has led them to claim that ‘hundreds of thousands of older people lack protection under the Human Rights Act’, and they call for this loophole to be closed. Very few local authority contracts for home care specify that the provider must comply with Human Rights legislation. One in three authorities has cut back on home care spending, and others plan to do the same within the next year. Many pay their carers low rates, which raises serious concerns about the pay and conditions of workers. Where their necessary skills are unrecognised and unremunerated, it does little to improve quality home care. It’s not a fun job: the work and the workers need to be honoured and their contribution respected.
The research suggests that about half of the people, friends and family who gave evidence to the research, expressed real satisfaction with their home care, but the other fifty percent gave examples of financial abuse, disregarding privacy and dignity, and treating older people as if they were invisible.
The inquiry reveals the pervasive social isolation and loneliness experienced by many older people confined to their homes, and it is precisely the provision of social activities for such people which are some of the first support services that are withdrawn when local authorities cut back on their spending.
The inquiry found age discrimination was a significant barrier to older people over 65 getting home care, with them sometimes getting less money towards their care than younger people with similar needs. Jackie Ashley writing about the report in The Guardian warns against an inter-generational conflict, but rightly points out that there has been too little emphasis on the effects of the economic situation on the elderly, whose savings are worth less, prices are up and social care is withdrawn.
She says that this is a situation that will affect everyone at some stage in their lives. Unless you die early and quickly, or are swaddled with vast amounts of cash and a big-hearted and capable family, the social care crisis is not be shunned’.
But that’s precisely what is happening. And this may be yet another devastating report on social injustice in the U.K. which the government – obsessed with other issues that reflect the interests of middle aged and privileged families – is likely to ignore. Sally Greengross, EHRC’s Commissioner, concludes that it is essential that care services respect people’s basic human rights. ‘This is not about burdensome red tape, it is about protecting people from the kind of dehumanizing treatment we have uncovered’.