Half of older people with care needs ‘not getting enough help before pandemic’

Half of older people needing help with everyday tasks such as getting washed and dressed had unmet care needs prior to the coronavirus pandemic, new analysis suggests.

Some 1.6 million people aged 65 and over in England were not having all of their care needs met in 2019, Age UK said – around one in seven of the overall older population.

This rises to two thirds of older people with care needs in the North East.

The charity analysed data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, collected in 2018-19, and extrapolated it using the Office for National Statistics’ mid-year population estimate for 2019.

Its new report, Health, Care and Cash: Improving the lives of older people in red wall England, looks specifically at data about older people who live in red wall constituencies and the social policies most likely to help them.

A swathe of seats in the Midlands and northern England, traditionally viewed as safe Labour seats, were won by the Conservatives in 2019 and are likely to be hotly contested in the next general election.

The report found that older people living in these areas are more likely to be on low incomes and to experience poorer health and higher levels of disability than the older population of England as a whole.

And around one in four older people live with a severe disability in the red wall, compared to one in five nationally.

Proposed reforms of the social care system, based around a care cap, would help more affluent areas and increase inequality, the charity says.

Its analysis suggests that even with a ‘lifetime cap’ on care costs older people would still, on average, spend between £100,000 and £150,000 on their care before they reach it.

Instead, a universal care service, free at the point of use and funded through taxes, would be more beneficial.

Caroline Abrahams, Age UK charity director, said older voters in red wall areas are “waiting for politicians to woo them”, and that social care is probably the biggest issue.

Speaking at a joint event held at the Conservative Party conference, she said: “So our advice to any policy maker, regardless of party, is if you want to help the red wall, don’t do the cap… because an awful lot of people in the red wall won’t benefit from it.”

Ms Abrahams added: “There’s no doubting how much difference the right kind of social care reform would make in many red wall constituencies though, because at the moment significant numbers are poorly served, with limited choice of decent provision and big numbers going without all the help they need.”

Teri Stephenson, chief executive of Age UK Lancashire, said the organisation has seen a rise in safeguarding concerns around unmet care needs and problems experienced by isolated older people.

She said: “These are issues that may have never been picked up before coronavirus – a lack of self-care, abuse or suicidal people – and desperately need measures in place to help.

“The pandemic has shone a light on how some older people’s social care needs are going unnoticed and unsupported.”

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