Giving the elderly a raw deal

It’s a major issue that every rich country has to deal with today: how to care for the swelling number of old people. And in Britain we’re dealing with it badly. Local councils have been squeezed of funding; residential homes are being sold to property developers; home services are closing. Allied Healthcare, one of the largest home-care providers, is in danger of going bust. And in hospitals, around one in ten beds are occupied by an elderly person who’s medically fit to leave, but has nowhere else to go. They do things a lot better in two of the most rapidly ageing nations. In 1995, Germany introduced a long-term care insurance system: workers and employers each pay half of the compulsory levy; the retired pay all of it. Japan did the same in 2000, when it introduced a tax that everyone over 40 has to pay. Each system has flaws of course, but what both ensure is security – a centrally funded system that doles out funds to be delivered locally. In those two countries, no one “is living with the crippling uncertainty or the sense of unfairness that haunts us here”. (Camilla Cavendish, Financial Times)

Much is made in the media of the resentment among some young Brits about the difficulty they have buying homes and the insecurity of the jobs available. I entirely sympathise, and feel angry about what is happening to them. But when they criticise the elderly who do not have houses they own and have only Social Security to live on then they are not being fair. Not everyone, when younger, had a fancy income from a City bank or owned a house free of a mortgage. On the contrary, such people are/were a minority. Tens of thousands live on a meagre pension, have no family to care for them, and have to live in for-profit homes where the care is lousy, the food is worse, and the inmates sit watching TV all day in a dreary dayroom. I had an elderly, distant cousin who had been disabled from youth. She depended on the local Council for preparing her daily food and for her personal care. Her death at home was in a way fortuitous because the Council, starved of money by government, was apparently about to cut her benefits while pretending to offer her “choice” (what choice had an old lady who was incapable of helping herself?). But increasing impoverishment of the elderly has been Conservative government policy for years. People were better off with fish, olives and bright sunlight in Greece in the time of Epicurus.

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