Care Homes for the Elderly*

It’s something few of us want and many of us dread : to leave your own home and in the company of other older people to be cared for by people paid to do the job But sometimes it has to happen. It is estimated that in the next twenty years there will be twice the number of people living who are over eighty five years old, many of whom may not be able to look after themselves. It was announced yesterday that Parliament’s House of Commons is to receive ‘shortly‘ a set of proposals for improving residential provision. In my working days I often visited care homes run by local councils. Too many of them were badly administered with little thought given to how to create interest and variety for people mostly confined to where they lived. Some were appallingly under-resourced. It has got much better.

But the provision is changing rapidly from homes administered and supervised by local authorities to ones that are run sometimes by charities but more often by companies in the business of making profit out of need.

According to analysts Laing and Buisoon, of the 271,100 residential homes in the U.K. in 2008, only 35,400 were provided in council-owned homes. Private sector homes on average offer lower rates of pay and less job security than the public sector. When a Council care home in the county of Essex was transferred to a private firm, one supervisor’s salary was dropped from £25,000 to £18,000. Many of her colleagues she says had to find second jobs. The firm in question said that changes had to be made ‘for compelling business reasons.’ Such companies complain that cash-strapped Councils are not paying adequate fees for residents, but the average pay for care workers is only £6.56 an hour with some employers paying less than the minimum wage, currently at £5.77.

Partly as a consequence of this, more than 25% of home workers recruited in 2007 were foreign-born and whilst often they come with a good work ethic and are respectful toward older people, language difficulties can make communication with residents difficult.

The proportion has doubled over the last ten years.

I shall look with interest at the government’s report when it comes out, ‘shortly’.

* I am indebted to an article in the ‘The Guardian’ Ann Bawden for the information in this blog.