Some 800,000 vulnerable elderly people are struggling to live in their own homes without any state-provided home help, say campaigners who argue the most vulnerable in society are being “catastrophically let down” by social services.
Councils have slashed spending on social care in the last few years, as Westminster has cut local authority funding.
Now more than four in five councils (82 per cent) will only fund home help for people with substantial or critical care needs, up from about half in 2005, according to official figures.
The result is that around 800,000 older people out of two million with care needs – many with dementia – are trying to live without any state-provided care, according to the charity Age UK.
It has joined forces with the British Geriatrics Society to lobby ministers for higher funding for social care services.
Michelle Mitchell, charity director of Age UK, said the Government had a “once in a generation opportunity to reform social care”, which she argued was “a moral and practical imperative”.
She said: “Older people at the most physically vulnerable point in their lives are being catastrophically let down.
“Social care should provide the necessary support so that people can live in dignity, knowing they can depend on the help they need to wash, eat, and to have a meaningful existence.
“Instead, Age UK and the British Geriatrics Society are seeing a generation of very vulnerable people whose health is suffering because they are not getting enough care at home.”
The organisation believes local authorities have had “little choice” but to reduce social care services due to budget cuts.
Dr Ian Donald, a specialist in old age medicine from the British Geriatrics Society, said: “It is clear to all who have had personal experience of the system that social services is close to breaking point.”
The result, he said, was that many turned up at hospital in a health “crisis” because nobody had taken proper care of them.
“Sometimes it seems the only way to turn is to seek hospital admission, or more commonly wait for that crisis to occur which precipitates the emergency admission,” he said.
“Other times the crisis is more serious – a pressure sore, fracture, or malnutrition – which could have been avoided if more timely assessment had been provided, with medical and social care working hand-in-hand.”
Families were usually “doing all they can” but were too often “struggling to cope”, he noted.
Even though social services were badly stretched, he advised against carers reducing what they did for clients to the bare minimum, saying the elderly needed more than that.
He said: “We need to find ways of not just meeting basic needs but improving wellbeing, reducing loneliness, and restoring some pleasure to their lives.
“This of course requires more time, and the development of friendship between carer and client, which is not possible in 15 minute aliquots of care.”
A Department of Health spokesman said: “Bad practice, such as some councils contracting care by the minute, leads to older people being admitted to hospital needlessly.
“Rather than contracting for clock watching, the best councils are arranging care that concentrates on delivering the outcomes people deserve: dignified and compassionate care.”
He added that £648 million had been made available “to better integrate services” this year, while local health authorities had been given another £150 million “to invest in social care services with a focus on tackling delayed transfers of care”.
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