Elderly Stripped of Right To Home Help

Frail elderly people are being slowly stripped of the right to vital home help that enables them to keep living independent lives, a scathing report found yesterday. It said that social workers are quietly removing help like meals on wheels, cleaning, washing and dressing and transport from all but the most disabled among older people who live at home.

A third of town halls have cut back the home help they offer vulnerable elderly people over the past year, it said.

And those that are offered help to go on leading their own lives in the face of ill-health and disability are frequently charged sky high and often unaffordable prices by local council social services departments, it said.

The charity Counsel and Care, which carried out the study, called the cutbacks ‘short-sighted’ and said they stored up worse problems for elderly people and more expense for the state in the future.

Some ask for more than £300 a week from elderly people for services like meals on wheels, cleaning and personal care delivered in their own homes. That is three quarters of a typical bill charged by a residential care home. That is more than the average weekly income for pensioner households, £306 a week.

The average bill set for help at home by town halls is £161.64 a week, the analysis found, which is still more than half the weekly income of an average pensioner home.

Each local council has the power to set its own means tests to decide who should pay and who should not.

The report from the charity for older people and their carers comes amid deepening concern at the failure of the state to provide the help at home. Both ministers and experts believe such help is the best way to enable older people to stay independent and out of residential care homes.

Yesterday the Daily Mail reported a study by the Help the Aged charity which estimated that half the people now nearing retirement will be forced to sell their homes to cover the huge costs of residential care.

Earlier this year a report by former Government troubleshooter Sir Derek Wanless recommended that billions of extra state spending needed to cope with the problems experienced by rising numbers of vulnerable elderly people should be mainly used on help for them to stay in their own homes.

Sir Derek accused social workers of pushing elderly people into residential care in order to grab the value of their homes.

Under the means test system that governs care home bills, those with assets of more than £20,500 must pay their own bills. Social services departments can force people to sell their homes to meet the costs of £400 a week and up.

But if people stay in their own homes, then town hall budgets have to bear the cost of paying for home help.

The report yesterday from Counsel and Care said: ‘It has become very difficult for older people to access help in the community unless their needs are very high.’

The findings were based on a survey sent to 172 local authorities.They showed that one in three have raised the threshold of illness at which people are able to get help.

Two out of three only offer help to people with the highest level of dependency as assessed by the council’s social workers. In some cases, help for people with less serious problems goes only to those who have no help at all from their families or any other carer.

The charity said: “Those older people who have moderate to low needs do not qualify for services, despite their problems potentially causing a poor quality of life.

“Services which reduce everyday risk, such as handyman services, are important as a way of maintaining independence and can enable an individual to remain longer in their own home.”

It added: “These low level, preventative services are not generally available despite their proven value.”

The report said that town halls in cutting services are ignoring guidelines that say they should help elderly people with minor difficulties that are likely to increase over time.

Counsel and Care said that means-tested meals on wheels, transport and personal care were all being charged for at higher rates by social workers.

It found that some were asking elderly people to pay £16.50 an hour for help and the average charge was £10.39 an hour. Meals on wheels cost £2.59 a meal on average, but some town halls asked for £4.10 for each meal. Charity chief Stephen Burke said: “Tightening the eligibility criteria is seen as an immediate cure-all for the current funding problems, but this policy is short-sighted – councils are simply storing up future difficulties.

“They will have an increase in the number of older people needing care for higher needs and more expensive services. The dignity of older people depends on their being able to receive support.”

A number of local authorities, particularly in southern England, have admitted to cutting social services budgets for older people in order to keep their council tax rises down to Government targets.