Elderly Britons in care homes ‘crisis’, Europe’s human rights chief warns

Elderly care home residents in Britain are being denied “basic justice” as austerity cuts leave the system in “crisis”, Europe’s human rights chief has warned.

Thomas Hammarberg said the quality of care offered in residential homes in Britain was deteriorating as private firms cut services to reduce their costs.

In strongly worded remarks, Mr Hammarberg, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, singled out the English model of privatised social care homes for criticism.

His comments follow the crisis at Southern Cross, England’s biggest private care home provider, which was forced to take drastic measures to stave off administration including cutting the rent it pays to its landlords.

Private care home operators have been struggling to balance their books as councils reduce the fees they pay for residents in an attempt to make savings.

Industry experts have warned that more firms are facing financial difficulties, leaving tens of thousands of elderly and disabled residents with an uncertain future.

In an article published on the commissioner’s website, Mr Hammarberg warned that radical austerity measures introduced in the aftermath of the global financial crisis had serious consequences for the elderly and disabled.

“Privatisation is not the solution,” he said. “Reports in the United Kingdom show that a high number of privatised care homes are in crisis because of reduced state support and unwise, loan-based investments.”

There was evidence that the quality of services in these homes had “deteriorated to a worrying degree”, he said.

“Companies running the care homes have reduced services in order to remain solvent. The vulnerable people they are responsible for are the victims.”

Mr Hammarberg warned that commercial providers “are now at risk of going bust” with consequences for about 100,000 disabled people. Britain is not alone in facing difficulties with social care for the elderly and disabled, he said.

But Mr Hammarberg suggested austerity measures should not come at the expense of vulnerable people’s quality of life.

“Austerity measures which exacerbate inequalities will only postpone problems and in some fields make it even more costly to resolve them at a later stage,” he said.

“At stake are essential values of basic justice and social cohesion. Those already disadvantaged have no belts to tighten and must not be asked to make sacrifices for a crisis which was not of their doing.”

In England, individuals with assets of more than £23,250 receive no state funding to help with the cost of care home fees, which can exceed £50,000 a year.

Jane Ashcroft, chief executive of Anchor, a charitable trust running about 100 homes in England, said councils had been cutting back on the support they offer and limiting the fees they pay independent care home providers.

“The criteria have become so much tighter,” she said. “We have really seen a big difference.”

However, the Local Government Association, said councils were being forced to respond to Treasury spending cuts that have left them with a £6.5 billion funding shortfall this year.

David Rogers, chairman of the LGA’s community wellbeing board, said: “Councils have a duty to spend taxpayers’ money carefully and get the best deal from care homes for the people they are charged with looking after.

“Councils don’t want care homes to go out of business. However, the long-term triple pressures of insufficient funding, growing demand and escalating costs, coupled with recent Government budget cuts, means the current system is under acute financial strain.”