At a fringe meeting at the Conservative Party conference Dr Phillip Lee made the suggestion that we have become a selfish society and are no longer prepared to look after our older relatives. This was echoed by Care Minister, Jackie Doyle-Price, who extolled the virtues of ethnic minority families who look after their elderly relatives. Is this an early signal of an orchestrated shift in policy, I wonder? If it is it is a very over simplified view of the situation.
It understates the reality of what has changed in our society in the last 30 years:-
- Obviously people are living much longer in retirement.
- Later life can more frequently stretch into frailty.
- Dementia is more prevalent in the older elderly.
- Care of people with dementia is demanding and can be required for years.
- Families are often scattered around the country, more than in the past.
- Older People’s children are often retired themselves.
- Extended families have multiple demands on their time and resources.
- Many women work full-time and are not available to provide care.
- The shear numbers of older people.
Even so, I believe most families would wish to look after their older relatives if they reasonably could. However all these changed demographic factors mean that direct hands-on family care for older parents is not be possible for everyone. Any new policy direction needs to face up to this and be completely honest with older people.
We simply haven’t saved enough as a society to pay for the cost of retirement. Increased longevity and improved health care have changed everything and whilst this is good news, somebody has to pay for it. It could be through increased taxes, but that would fall on the younger generations who are still working.
Alternatively, older people could cash in the wealth they have accumulated in their houses and pay for their later life themselves, which is a solution I have advocated for a long time. In practice it is the only realistic option, but it could be made easier if there were much better ways of releasing equity from your house. This would enable more older people to pay increased for support in their own homes. This route is difficult currently not just because equity release offers poor value but also the quality of most domicillary care is hardly encouraging.
The other option for some people is to downsize, but again there are limited opportunities. That is where the ” Community Retirement Village ” comes into its own which I have talked about in recent posts.
Politicians won’t sort this out, maybe a Royal Comission on Social Care might ?