The residents had been left on the landing in their wheelchairs. Above them sawdust showered down from the ongoing building work. Wheezing from the dust and dazed by noise, the octogenarians were stuck to the spot.
I was visiting a care home as part of the Centre for Social Justice’s (CSJ) two-year review of social care and older age poverty. This home, by the manager’s own admission, was struggling. Located in a particularly deprived North London ward, the majority of residents were council-funded, meaning that total fees being received by the home were negligible.
Following multiple high-profile revelations in 2011 and 2012, no one could be unaware of the crisis overwhelming social care in the UK. Headline upon headline highlights the – to put it mildly – ‘challenges’ faced by the sector: neglect; abandonment; isolation; low pay for care workers; staff who have no idea how to address the needs of those with dementia and the cutting of support to those not deemed to have ‘critical’ or ‘substantial’ needs.
A lack of funding in the care system has sunk to a critical level. Economic factors have contributed to understaffed care homes and ‘flying’ home care visits where washing, dressing and feeding is crammed into a 15 minute slot.
The reason staff-to-resident ratios are low, the reason agencies don’t pay home carers travel is because, as Sarah Pickup, head of ADASS (the umbrella body for adult social care directors) told the CSJ, the current system is starved of cash and ‘in desperate need of significant investment.’
Yet while public expenditure on the poorest is slashed – what reforms are on the table? What is the Government’s number one priority? Answer: economist Andrew Dilnot’s proposed ‘cap’ on care costs designed to protect the housing wealth of those fortunate enough to have accrued it.
Today the CSJ published a checklist showing that the Dilnot reforms do not, as commonly assumed, answer the most urgent social care problems. The poorest should command our attention before any move to subsidise the assets of a wealthier group. The Government must walk before it can run.