I don’t know what depressed me more yesterday. The Daily Mail’s unqualified support for Mrs May’s ‘Miliband’ manifesto and their lauding of her ‘honesty’. Or the heartbreaking state of my 95-year-old mother, wandering, lost and pathetically searching for her parents. I was at her home with her on my ‘care’ shift .
It pointed up what a sham is the Conservatives’ very un-conservative solution to the ‘social care’ crisis. Like the many other families who shoulder their ‘elderly care’ themselves, my sisters and I have been managing mum’s care at home (pretty much 24/7) for over five years now. We’ve worked through mum’s savings and onto the collateral of her house. All to avoid the tender mercies of State care.
This is what nearly everyone I know with elderly parents with houses has done or are doing. They’ve long ago given up on any idea of inheritance; they are more likely to be digging into their own pockets.
The idea that the retired rich must be made to pay for themselves via their house collateral, in order to ameliorate the social care crisis, as they can afford it, is a chimera. They already are paying for their own care. Privately.
It is also insulting. My mother worked all her life from 17 to 87, first as a Second World War radar technician, then as a full time clergyman’s wife and mother, finally as a teacher from her fifties (till her mind fell apart at 88) as a result of which they were able to buy their first house when my dad retired at 74. She scrimped and saved – a woman who never spent a penny on herself, neither on clothes, cars nor holidays. Eating out? You must be joking.
No wonder I felt as affronted as the old people George Alagiah interviewed on TV on Thursday when he reprimanded them for their selfishness in expecting younger people to pay for their care. We have not lived the life of Riley like the young do now, they expostulated.
Far from this frugal and independent generation burdening the State, it’s their taxes that have already contributed to other less fortunate or less thrifty people’s public sector care.
Don’t the Tories listen to anyone any more? Or are they just set on appeasing chippy socialists, who want to punish anyone who has managed to responsibly take care of their own lives?
And please forget any idea of a kind, neighbourly home help when you hear the words ‘social care’. The current system of local authority social care for the elderly meets the needs of a tick box culture, not the needs of frail, vulnerable and sometimes already paranoid old people.
Social care was set up for my mum as the terms of her release from hospital after a bad fall and fracture when dementia was diagnosed, never mind that I was taking her home. After several bed blocking days waiting for it, while the necessary forms were being completed, the geriatric psychiatrist asked: “Does your mother have £23,000?” Yes I replied. “Well, since she’ll have pay for her social care herself anyway, you might rather organise your own private care”.
I was to find out what she meant. You pay but have no control. You take what is given, or rather not given, which is three 15-minute visits by a pair of carers per day.
When the first pair arrived full of forms they did not ask what my mother needed but when, on their visit list, we’d like them to arrive for their 15-minute sessions – 8.30 am or 11.30 am for getting up, 11 am or 2.30 pm for lunch and 6.30 pm or 9.30 pm for being put to bed? They would leave food for her on the table under cling film.
What about her need for the loo, I asked. Would they clean the commode? Would they do any shopping? No, no and no. And no, it would not be the same two people each time. Sorry, but they had to go – 15 minutes was up.
We took the psychiatrist’s advice.
Now Mrs May has added insult to the injury of the State’s uncaring social care system. She has turned what was once regarded as a basic conservative virtue (owner occupation) into a vice – something you are going to have to pay for if you need to fall back on the State – a sort of punishment.
This is a Conservative Prime Minister sanctioning a socialist attack on private property ownership, singling out people who have bought property, from those who rented or had the benefit of housing allowances. If anything were an attack on independence, aspiration and thrift it is this.
It is of course also an attack on the family. If Mrs May were as honest as The Daily Mail gives her credit for being, her policy would have started from the fact it’s the family not the State which shoulders the main burden of care, most of which is carried out by partners and adult children; something that surely that should be valued and encouraged.
Also it would recognise that the crisis in elderly care is not just the result of longevity but of social and cultural change and family breakdown. Between 2001 and 2011 the number of cohabiting couple families increased by 0.7 million and lone parent families by 0.4 million, married couple families decreased by 0.3 million – all meaning more ‘alone’ individuals. At the same time the single earner married couple penalty has meant fewer women at home to do the caring. Instead they have been relentlessly pushed into the workforce and indoctrinated by feminists to reject their caring instincts as though care was bad or regrettable. Yet women are still the instinctive carers in society and want to be.
David Goodhart points out: ‘The weakening of family ties has contributed to several of today’s most pressing social problems, such as the social care crisis. Yet even Conservative politicians seem more interested in equality in the workplace than making it easier for low income families to stay together.’
Instead of strengthening these ties Mrs May has focused on a false problem. Instead of restoring choice and encouraging family interdependence she is driving the wrong way up the motorway. There are a lot of Goodhart’s ‘Somewhere’ families out there whose hearts are in the right place as far as family commitment and responsibility is concerned. Like the kind and selfless women who help care for my mum. If the Conservatives won’t cut these families some slack and strengthen their arm to act according to their consciences, no one will.
The ‘pernicious cult of the individual’ will continue to triumph while the numbers of elderly ‘home alones’ with only the State to fall back on will carry on rising – inexorably.