Monday 18 December 2017
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Too many older people struggling at home are being left to fend for themselves as public services disintegrate says new Age UK report

Too many older people who are struggling at home are being left to make do and forced back on their own resources, as the public services on which they rely are increasingly being scaled back or withdrawn, according to Age UK.

The Charity is calling on the Government to invest in the local services that support older people to remain as independent, well and resilient as possible in its forthcoming Spending Review.

Agenda for Later Life is Age UK’s annual audit of how public policy is meeting the needs of our ageing population. It highlights some of the big challenges and opportunities facing older people. The report sets out the Charity’s policy priorities for the year ahead, covering all aspects of ageing – money matters; health and care; housing and active and inclusive communities for older people, with an emphasis on dignity, independence and security.

The report says that too many older people who are finding it hard to cope at home are being left to fend for themselves. This is because the public services that are supposed to support them, many of them the responsibility of local councils, are shrivelling away because of Government cuts.

While happily, many areas of life for older people have improved – including digital inclusion and employment - progress in other areas has unfortunately stalled or even gone backwards. This is most marked in health, care and wellbeing, continuing a disturbing trend found last year. Older people who need some help to manage at home are increasingly having to look after themselves, with the numbers of carers aged 85+ more than doubling over a 10-year period, and 1 in 20 people aged 65+ now caring full-time (for at least 50 hours a week). Other worrying figures include:

• Delayed discharges from hospital due to lack of social care rising to 421,557, up from 365,061 in 2013/2014[i]

• Almost £2 billion in cuts to older people’s social care in the last 10 years[ii]

• 22 per cent increase in emergency hospital admissions of people 65+ since 2006[iii]

• Avoidable admissions are rising significantly; in the case of pneumonia, over twice the number of older people per 100,000 population are being admitted compared to 10 years ago[iv]

• 24 per cent of pensioners do not go out socially at least once a month[v]

• Over 1 million older people say they are ‘often or always lonely’, up from 770,000 in last year’s report[vi].

With mounting pressures on council budgets, the overwhelming concern now is a predicted council funding gap of a massive £6 billion by 2016/17[vii]. This, coupled with huge pressure on community and primary health care budgets, is set to undermine still further the essential support systems which are there to protect older people, including social care and adult safeguarding.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said: “Talk to any A and E doctor, paramedic or ambulance driver and you hear the same story: they are seeing increasing numbers of older people, many living alone, who are not being looked after properly at home and who are having to come into hospital, partly because of the lack of care and support for them in the community.

“Then, when these older people are in hospital and their need for more support at home becomes clear, there is a shortage of resources in councils to do much about it. The result is that older people are frequently staying in hospital for longer than their medical condition requires, while hospital staff wrestle with the problem of how they can safely discharge them. Lingering for a long time in hospital undermines older people’s resilience and makes it harder for them to make a full recovery, jeopardising their capacity to live independently at home.

“These miserable situations are happening every minute of every day, right round the country. We are letting older people down in this way because the safety net of community services is becoming more and more threadbare, due to Government cuts to councils. This is also draining the energy and resolve of hospital staff, because hospitals are ‘the last refuge’ where increasing number of older people are ending up, as other services decline.

“The Government must pledge to fund councils to rebuild the local safety net for older people, as part of the Spending Review later this month. Older people badly need this to happen and it is increasingly obvious that our hospitals need it just as much too.”