Around 30 years ago I spoke at Birmingham City Hall at a conference about the future of care homes for older people. I controversially suggested that all residential homes should be shut down within 10 years. I was assailed by the Lady Chairman of the Residential Care Homes Association and received only half hearted support from the then Director of Social Services. Needless to say, nothing came of my radical proposition.
Now my old friend Mr Paul Burstow, former Care Minister until 2012, has suggested in a Demos Report that care homes should be “re-branded as housing with care”, to overcome their poor reputation.
While I am sorry Mr Burstow, changing the name won’t change the nature.
Boredom and loneliness still typify many residential homes, so does poor care and unqualified staff. Neglect and abuse lie just below the surface – there were 7,654 cases of reported abuse in 2013. How many more examples never get reported for fear of recrimination?
This is nothing new and it is a pity it took a Government Minister responsible for the sector, so long to learn it. It is even more of a shame that he did not feel able to say it until after he stood down as Care Minister.
There are 450,000 older people currently living in residential care homes in this country. Estimates in this Demos Report suggest there will need to be another 239,000 places in full time residential care by 2030.
Yet most elderly people view the prospect of moving into a care home as a last resort. A place to die, not a place to live.
Yes Mr Burstow, the image needs to change, but this will only happen when the reality changes and that requires much more than re-branding.
The system of funding residential care is the fundamental issue, which successive Governments have failed to address. Nor have they been honest with the electorate in saying there is not enough public money to pay for all the residential care. The original Dilnot Report proposals attempted to stimulate new insurance products to cover long-term care costs but the coalition Government, of which Mr Burstow was a member, watered down the proposals and nothing new has come forward.
So, 30 years on from when I suggested abolishing residential care homes, very little has changed, except that we now have many more:-