Elderly ‘robbed of dignity’ by failing social care services

Hundreds of thousands of elderly people are being robbed of their dignity by England’s failing social care services and left at risk of “terrible abuse and neglect”, David Cameron has been warned.

An unprecedented coalition of more than 60 government advisers, charity directors and independent experts is demanding “urgent” and “fundamental” reform to care and home help services in England.

Thousands are forced to sell their homes and use up their savings to pay rising care bills each year, while businesses are losing experienced staff who are forced to quit to look after their relatives.

In a letter published in The Daily Telegraph on Tuesday, the experts say that a lack of “political leadership” must not be allowed to condemn 800,000 frail pensioners to a life of loneliness any longer.

The signatories include three advisers who have been leading the Department of Health’s consultation on reform, alongside crossbench peers and representatives of the British Medical Association, Age UK, Carers UK, the British Red Cross, and the TUC.

They back proposals that no one should pay more than £35,000 for care bills during their lifetime, and urge Mr Cameron to secure cross party support for “lasting reform”.

“The unavoidable challenge we face is how to support the increasing number of people who need care,” the letter says.

“It is currently a challenge which we are failing to meet – resulting in terrible examples of abuse and neglect in parts of the care system.

“This comes at huge cost to the dignity and independence of older and disabled people, but also to our society, family life and the economy: an estimated 800,000 older people are being left without basic care – lonely, isolated and at risk.

“Others face losing their homes and savings because of soaring care bills.”

Full-time carers who are forced to leave their jobs to look after frail relatives are being “pushed to breaking point” while NHS hospitals are “paying the price” because the care system cannot cope.

“We have a duty as a nation to change this – but it requires political leadership,” they say.

The warning comes at a critical time for the future of the social care system for disabled and elderly adults in England.

Over the next 20 years, the country’s ageing population is expected to place care homes and the NHS under intense strain.

Ministers have promised to publish a white paper setting out wide ranging reforms in April.

The Coalition has agreed to hold talks with the Labour Party in an attempt to reach a political consensus but there is growing concern that any new system will come too late for thousands of elderly people currently in need of help.

A combination of inadequate funding from councils, poor quality training for nursing and care home staff, and a series of scandals involving abuse of the elderly and disabled has created a picture of a system at breaking point.

The signatories give their backing to plans to reform the funding of care published last summer from the government commission chaired by Andrew Dilnot, an economist.

Mr Dilnot proposed that no one would pay more than £35,000 for care bills during their lifetime.

Any bills above this “cap” would be met by the state, under his plan, but the Treasury is said to be reluctant to provide the estimated £1.7 billion a year extra required.

Currently, costs are unlimited and an estimated 20,000 people a year are forced to sell their homes to pay for care.

Ministers had originally promised to publish detailed plans in response to the Dilnot Commission last year.

However, a white paper will now not appear for another four months. A final decision on whether to accept the Dilnot plan for a “cap” on care bills may be even further away after ministers relegated the idea to a “progress report” to be published alongside the main white paper.

Government advisers working on the reforms have signed the letter. They include Imelda Redmond, head of policy at Marie Curie Cancer Care, Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, and Alex Fox, chief executive of Shared Lives Plus.

Paul Burstow, the Liberal Democrat Care Services Minister, insisted the government was “taking leadership on this issue”.

“The Coalition agrees that the reform of social care – and the dignity and independence of older and disabled people – are an urgent priority,” he said.

“We have put an extra £7.2bn for social care over the course of this Parliament, and yesterday we announced an extra £150m this year for social care to help people be supported to get care at home and relieve pressures on the NHS.

“We’ll bring forward a white paper and a progress report on funding reform in the spring setting out our plans.”