Why we must all challenge the dangerous myth that families are too selfish to care for their parent
“Britain is too selfish to care for its elderly” scream the headlines in today’s Daily Mail. This follows hot on the heels of Care Minister Jacky Doyle Price’s comments at the Conservative Party conference lecturing the country on how it should look to the example of black & minority ethnic communities on how to the care for their elderly relatives. If this sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Jeremy Hunt first exhorted British families to be more like those in Asia back in 2013. Since then successive Government ministers have repeated the mantra that families must do more
“A wholesale repairing of the social contract so that children see their parents giving wonderful care to grandparents – and recognise that in time that will be their responsibility too” Jeremy Hunt Sec State for Health 2015
“The ’Auntie’s room’ is a room for parents, or your grandparents. And they just assume that when you get a place for your parents, you will have a place for your parents – you will look after your parents. I think we can do with a bit more of that Asian attitude in Britain” Sajid Javid Business Secretary 2015
“We’re not going to turn overnight into a society where everyone can live in large housing units, but all sorts of things suggest that more people will probably have a mum or dad living with them at some stage in the future” Alistair Burt, Care Minister2015
“We need to start thinking as a society about how we deal with care of our own parents. One of the things that has struck me as I’ve been doing this role is that nobody ever questions the fact that we look after our children, that’s just obvious. Nobody ever says it is a caring responsibility, it’s just what you do. I think some of that logic and some of way we think about that, in terms of the sort of volume of numbers that we are seeing coming down the track, will have to impinge on the way we start thinking about how we look after our parents. In a way, it is a responsibility in terms of our life cycle that is similar.” David Mowat Minister for Care January 2017
This narrative that families aren’t doing enough and that if everyone just “took responsibility”, the care crisis would be solved is a dangerous myth and must be stopped.
The reality is that 92% of all unpaid care in this country is provided by families and is worth approximately 55 billion to the State. There are 11.8 million people over 65 in the UK and of those 421,000 live in a residential or nursing home with a further 380,000 receiving care at home. The State really isn’t providing care to vast numbers of older people, its families who are providing care to vast numbers of older people. To receive care at home, one must pass the Fair Access to Care criteria which for most councils is limited to critical or substantial needs vis
Critical – when:
- life is, or will be, threatened; and/or
- significant health problems have developed or will develop; and/or
- there is, or will be, little or no choice and control over vital aspects of the immediate environment; and/or
- serious abuse or neglect has occurred or will occur; and/or
- there is, or will be, an inability to carry out vital personal care or domestic routines; and/or
- vital involvement in work, education or learning cannot or will not be sustained; and/or
- vital social support systems and relationships cannot or will not be sustained; and/or
- vital family and other social roles and responsibilities cannot or will not be undertaken
Substantial – when:
- there is, or will be, only partial choice and control over the immediate environment; and/or
- abuse or neglect has occurred or will occur; and/or
- there is, or will be, an inability to carry out the majority of personal care or domestic routines; and/or
- involvement in many aspects of work, education or learning cannot or will not be sustained; and/or
- the majority of social support systems and relationships cannot or will not be sustained; and/or
- the majority of family and other social roles and responsibilities cannot or will not be undertaken
To think that people who need that level of care can be supported by their family just popping round to see them a bit more would be laughable if it didn’t seem to be the case that Government genuinely believe it.
For people ageing without children though this is genuinely no laughing matter. As the Government resolutely continues to parrot the families must do more narrative alongside refusing to do anything about social care, people ageing without children remain invisible. As ever, it simply never occurs to Ministers that people may not have children because let’s be honest, when Government say older peoples’ families they mean older people’s children. To be fair, it’s not just a problem at national level. Locally although strategies on ageing may acknowledge that the low fertility rates mean fewer younger people which will impact on social care workforce, few if any join up the dots to consider the impact on individuals ageing without children.
At AWOC we are working on solutions albeit much slower than we would like due to lack of funding but it is vital we find some ways forward. In the absence of Government understanding or willingness to act, it really is up to us to find ways to manage this demographic shift. The alternative is the people ageing without children will be left dangerously unsupported by a Government who refuses to acknowledge they even exist.