Old people today eh, growing up with all the benefits associated with a welfare state they have had the audacity to not die of horrible childhood diseases, malnutrition or in childbirth, like in the good old days. They have the cheek to continue living for more than a couple of years after retirement. Some inconveniently remain alive for decades after ceasing to be productive members of the work force. If this wasn’t bad enough many of them chose to use this time to become ill and frail, needing extra support to indulge in unnecessary activities such as bathing and preparing food for eating (keeping them alive for even longer I might add). Particularly nefarious elders persist with getting conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and dementia, requiring huge amounts of very expensive care at home, or, worse yet, in nursing homes.
Care is a costly business and many older people rely on family for support, and social services waiting lists often mean vulnerable people are not seen until a crisis point is reached. When that happens a much larger care package or a residential placement is required than if a timely intervention had been offered. Finding a care package can be extremely difficult in those places where it is less profitable to send care workers — such as rural areas. People are sometimes left without care for months whilst support is sought.
Even when a care package is in place there is no guarantee individuals will get the support they need. Chronic staff shortages can mean care is often late, calls may be rushed and any number of workers may attend the same service user across the week. It is not unheard of for people to have had a dozen different people in quick succession through their front door to help them with personal care and going to the toilet. No such thing as growing old gracefully in Theresa May's Britain.
Care in residential and nursing homes is little better with staffing levels kept low to eke out as much profit as possible. Residents in many places are got out of bed in the small hours to be washed and dressed by the night staff so that there is less work for the over stretched day staff. Despite the best efforts by staff the lack of time they have to care for residents means support is hurried and basic needs such as brushing teeth and shaving are often neglected. As for the staff themselves they are poorly paid and often precariously employed on minimum hour contracts. They work long shifts doing work which is difficult both emotionally and physically, rushing from visit to visit often not being paid for petrol or travelling time.
The current state of adult social care is intolerable for both staff and service users. The shortfall in care is often met by family members, mainly women, who are often still working, or are of retirement age themselves. As the population continues to age many of these carers have health conditions of their own which are exacerbated by their caring role. With limited support available carers have little option but to continue caring. Whilst in some places care can be exemplary and support is almost always found for those in crisis there is no excuse for huge profits being raked in by care companies at the expense of some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
• Karen is a careworker in south Yorkshire.