Sunday’s episode of Panorama offered a sobering insight into the reality of home care for the elderly and disabled in austerity Britain. Besieged by budget cuts councils are increasingly unable to offer competitive rates to private care contractors, and all involved are losing out. The episode focussed on care provision in south Wales and Liverpool, although the picture is a dire one across the UK. Reporter Sian Lloyd painted an image of an industry in crisis: the 800,000 home care workers currently staffing the sector is nowhere near the 2 million estimated to be needed in England alone by 2025, and cracks are already showing.
Behind the statisics – 6,500 people stuck in an acute hospital bed because there aren’t enough carers to look after them in their own homes; the insolvency of 69 care providers in the last three months who can’t afford to continue providing the service – were the intensely human stories of those affected by ever-increasing budget cuts. Since falling over in her home last November, where she lay for five days banging on the walls before a neighbour heard her cries for help, 86 year old Anastasia O’Leary has been left stranded in a rehabilitation unit as there is no care package in place for her return home. For 82 year old Shirley Hockey the confusion caused by her dementia is exacerbated by the fact that she is forced to remain on a hospital ward because of the lack of carers available to provide her with care in her own home.
The episode also showed the harsh conditions on the front line of care provision: care providers working flat out to provide dignity and care, receiving little pay and even less respect. Agencies lamented the increasing difficulty of recruiting for the sector; one scene followed the team at Liverpool City Council’s painstaking attempts to find care for a gentleman just out of hospital after two carers resigned the morning he returned home. Such a situation is not rare; the social care sector has quick staff turn around, with many carers leaving to work in the NHS as Healthcare Assistants where the pay is more competitive and the hours more social.
Conducting interviews with those involved in all areas of the provision of care, Lloyd offers an interrogation of the current situation, although little hope was offered as to the potential for improvement in the future. With Liverpool City Council alone having to find another £90 million in budget cuts over the next three years it is the elderly and disabled who will continue to suffer the indignity of inadequate care. As Professor John Williams of Aberystwyth University put it, “we are probably at the point of near failure.”
Image Credit: Geralt