This ghastly phrase, denoting care homes for elderly people or those with learning difficulties, is used by the columnist and social activist Polly Toynbee in her article in today’s Guardian. She is writing about another recently disclosed scandal of the mistreatment of an aged people in a care home. The family of a resident in Ash Court Care Centre in London hid a camera and allegedly caught a ‘care worker’ (and there’s a misnomer!) repeatedly slapping, hitting and shouting abuse at their mother who suffers from dementia. The Police have acted on the evidence.
Although this most recent example has to be balanced against the many good experiences of commercial and charity care homes that many of us have had, it still emphasises the dangers of a system encouraged by the government which marginalises regulation and reduces the support given to local councils, who last year cut care by 8.4%.
There is a national debate just now, not about the quality of care in privately owned homes for the elderly, but about how the cost of such care can be met by the state and by the children of the elderly.
The previous Labour government – with a less than impressive record on this matter according to Toynbee – came up with what seemed to me at the time to be a sensible suggestion. The idea was for a compulsory contribution of £20,000 on retirement paid up front or balanced against the value of a home after death, everyone paying into a central pool of resources. It was condemned by the Conservative party who called it a ‘Death Tax’. It became an election issue and has not been revisited. I think it should be.
There are real problems here. If they are able to, aged parents want to leave some money after they have died to their families. As we live longer – and this is the comparatively new situation that is constantly referred to by politicians but without much consequent shift in thought and policy- any wealth we may have may be swallowed up by having to meet the cost of care, which itself grows more and more horrendously expensive.
But Toynbee rightly says in her article that a more important matter is how well older people are looked after, when they can no longer look after themselves. Now that the marketising of so much of public life under the guise of ‘dealing with the deficit’ -is being engineered by the coalition government, this is another major issue of probity and justice that is likely to be ignored.