Advertisement

The social care crisis reveals our lack of respect for the elderly

There are those of us who think that the chronic underfunding of our social care system isn’t just about a lack of money.

It’s rooted in something much deeper; a lack of respect for those amongst us who are old and no longer contributing to the economy.

Perhaps in a society that values wealth creation highly, those who don’t contribute much – or nothing at all – are inevitably of very little value.

In some countries I’ve lived and visited, where they may have less choice on the supermarket shelves, there is clearly much more deference and respect for their old people. They are venerated as "elders", rather than dismissed as "the elderly".

As Social Affairs Editor, I have covered this chronic crisis in how we care for our elderly – some of the weakest and poorest amongst us – for more than a decade.

I have seen how humiliating it is for those dependent on others for care that is second-rate or doesn’t come at all.

I have watched their relatives cry with frustration because those they love the most are treated the worst.

And I have seen what a lottery it has become – how the poor in the North fare so much worse than poor in the South.

How the rich don’t even think about it because they won’t be dependent on the state for their care.

I have also seen that social care mostly commands attention when there is a political storyline that makes it of interest to the young who don’t otherwise like to be reminded that they too will get old.

When a political drama unfolds, "the elderly" are walk-on parts in the Westminster plot; described as "bed-blockers" for example in the NHS crisis.

What an offensive way to describe those who are miserably stuck in hospitals which the young can’t access because, in their feebleness, the old people are in the way

Social care mostly commands attention when there is a political storyline. Credit: PA

The other moment this social care story has traction is when young people are affected because their inheritance is at stake.

In that case "the elderly" are walk-on parts in a drama about inter-generational unfairness.

With a Green Paper scheduled for the summer, we need to start covering this story putting the elderly at the heart of the matter – because they matter.

I’ve been covering this story so long, I too am approaching the time when younger people will refer to me as "elderly".

I have seen Green Papers and White Papers published, and Health Secretaries come and go as they grudgingly blame the "ageing population" for the crisis that they – as young people – have repeatedly failed to tackle.

Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt has promised he has a plan. We are waiting. He is 51. Let’s hope he dares to do something before he too gets old.