The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has reported on care provided to older people in their own homes, and it doesn’t make pretty reading. Why is society allowing older people to be treated like this?
Examples emerged from EHRC’s report of people being denied basic rights, such as access to the toilet and the food in their own fridge. For those who have worked in the care sector, as I did for many years, this is sadly not altogether unexpected.
But it’s difficult to identify villains in a system that’s failing so many. Is it about care agencies and poorly-paid workers; is it about poor commissioning of care from private agencies by under-funded councils; or is it about could-do-better regulation?
Older people are human beings too
At first it seemed odd to me that this sort of inquiry came under the banner of ‘human rights’, but actually I now think it makes perfect sense.
Isn’t the real problem that – as a society – we’re prepared to let the social care system for older people bump along the bottom? It’s just about good enough, but it’s nowhere near the funding (or expectations we have) for younger people’s services.
We’ve become immune to care workers rushing in and out for 15-minute visits and driving at top speed to the next person, all because they’re not paid for their travelling time.
And our research shows that councils are increasingly rationing what they provide. In 2009 we found that 66% of councils met only critical and substantial needs. But our latest analysis for 2011-12 shows that 71% of councils are now excluding those with low or moderate needs.
Yes, there are bad home care agencies and poor commissioners, but I think the EHRC is right in bringing the debate back to the issue of treating older people like human beings.
The system is creaking at the seams
Until we admit as a society that we need to up our game on what care we give older people, we’ll never move away from a system that encourages care workers to prioritise a list of tasks, rather than thinking about what the human being in front of them really needs. Or ensure care workers are paid well so we routinely get well-trained, high calibre staff.
I’m not sure what the answer is, but I do think the system is creaking at the seams. The danger is that it could fall apart. And as the EHRC quite rightly showed, it is our elderly relatives bearing the brunt.