Nearly a day doesn’t go by when there’s a headline in the UK about government cuts impacting older people, residential homes shutting down or elder abuse.
It’s fair to say that everyone knows the system is broken yet not a lot of progress is being made to fix it.
The high profile failure of Southern Cross in 2011 and subsequent home closures across the country are symptomatic of the high level of debt providers carry. This is partly created by cash-strapped councils paying under the market rate but also because of unsustainable business models and the refusal to change.
Just recently industry watchdog Care Quality Commission revealed that one in three care home inspections result in failure. In what other industry would this be allowed to happen? Why should consumers – because that is what older people in residential care are – put up with sub-standard service?
Yet the Care Bill currently going through Parliament won’t change this. It has admirable aims – to put health and wellbeing at the heart of the social care system and to protect the most vulnerable – but it won’t encourage innovation needed to overhaul the industry.
It’s rooted in the language of the sector, not the customer – note my deliberate avoidance of the dehumanized term service user. It focuses heavily on the financial aspects of paying for care as opposed to looking at how people can plan for later life. It talks about care and support plans, which still implies an emphasis on treating an illness instead of an individual.
What’s more, it virtually ignores the private payer. According to LaingBuisson, around 175,000 older residents (43.4%) paid the full costs of their long term care fees in 2012. Their chief executive William Laing predicated this will continue to grow in the future “as the rate of owner occupation continues to expand among the very old population at risk of entering care homes”.
And while the Care Bill will put plans in place to oversee the financial stability of the ‘most hard to replace’ care providers, how will it ensure the providers are more sustainable in the first place?
It won’t because it doesn’t tackle the fundamental way we support older people and the lifestyle options available to them. In other words, the current system is not meeting market demand.
Here in the UK, the choices essentially boil down to three options despite all the different definitions.
If older people can’t access the social care they need to stay at home, they can move in with family, go into retirement living or – if they require greater support – a care home. Ask your parents or any of your older relatives for their views on these options and I’m sure many will tell you they can’t think of anything worse. That includes living with their family!
I’ve spoken to hundreds of older people about their choices, including my own parents, and they equate the current options with a loss of privacy, independence, choice and control. They read the stories in the papers about 15 minute care visits and the poor levels of pay endured by care workers and say no thanks!
I can’t say I blame them.
The typical 75 year old has more wealth than their parents ever had, has better health and has very different aspirations for life. They have lived the majority of their lives as consumers and the choices in every aspect of their lives appear endless.
At what point have they suddenly gone from an empowered adult, considered able to make their own decisions from what to wear to when to eat, to an adult who is treated like a child?
The reality for older people reaching their 80s is that they face problems managing daily domestic tasks, rather than a need for care. They need a warm environment and a team of people that enables them to do those tasks, not regimented meal-times, scheduled activities and Vera Lynn on repeat.
The only way this will change is if we reframe the way we view older age and how we support older people in later life.
It’s not about sustaining an existence; it is about continuing doing what you always love, surrounded by people that provide companionship, in a nurturing environment. In essence it’s about living happier for longer.
Sara McKee, Evermore Founder and Director of Market Innovation
Follow Sara on Twitter @SaraMcKeeFRSA
This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post.