Monday, July 04, 2011

Libraries, swimming pools or care for the elderly

Yesterday, there was a BBC radio programme (File on 4) about the state of the UK care industry. If you have anything to do with the care sector, have an elderly relative who might need care or want an insight into how your own old age might end-up then I suggest you have a listen. I think the radio programme is only accessible from within the UK.

In response to public funding reductions local authorities have taken the easy and painless (to them) route of pressuring their care providers to do more for less. If you don’t believe me have a look at the analysis done by Age UK.

Rather than confront the fundamental question about the priorities for public spending they have looked for the easy budgets to cut.

Is it more important to refurbish the local authority offices; to landscape the market square, to continue funding a loss making park-and-ride scheme than to divert funding to look after the elderly? Where I live in Salisbury the answer is the elderly come second to all of these options.

The programme explains how local authorities have continually reduced the fees paid to support older people to such a point that they are now untenable. It has even got to the point where there are a series of Judicial Reviews that are forcing councils to take account of the feasibility of delivering care when they force down the monies they pay.

UK public sector workers are striking to protect their gold-plated employment rights whilst at the same time pressuring the elderly to accept second-rate services. I am sure they do not see it this way but that is the result of maintaining their own standard of living whilst cutting the cost of care per person year after year. What we pay to enable local authority workers to retire early on index linked pensions means funds are not available to spend on the elderly.

As long as funding for care is administered by local authorities then this deplorable situation will continue. Central Government needs to ring-fence the spending on the elderly at a level that provides an acceptable levels of care.

Unfortunately (for the elderly) this approach would go against the professed policy of Coalition of ‘localism’ and will be the solution of last resort. It will take a few more human rights reports and media scare stories before this solution is adopted.

My personal view is that local authorities have neither the wit or will to take the hard decisions about what services they fund and those they cut. Unless central government takes direct control of this problem then the disaster that is the elderly care will continue to gain momentum. Dick Stroud

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