The real reason for the ‘uncivilised’ abandonment of the elderly
It is the government’s policy of suspicion towards carers that it is undermining help for older people.
Lib-Con health minister Norman Lamb has called for Neighbourhood Watch and other local groups to help care for elderly residents in their area – providing companionship, and help with feeding and washing. Lamb criticised the ‘uncivilised’ abandonment of the elderly, leaving them to live ‘miserable’ and solitary lives.
Yet this ‘uncivilised’ abandonment has been fomented by the state itself. For many years, it has insisted on criminal-records checks on anyone who offers such ‘care and companionship’ to elderly people in their area. This is because elderly people are defined as ‘vulnerable adults’, and anyone offering help is asked to prove that they are not seeking to ‘take advantage’ of their ‘position of trust’.
So it is now commonplace for local organisations going to the houses of elderly people to vet all volunteers. Camden Council in north London has even demanded that elderly people volunteering to telephone other elderly people for a chat be subjected to criminal-records checks. Other volunteers elsewhere are subjected to other procedures built on suspicion – such as the requirement that volunteers driving elderly people to the shops always work in twos, so they can keep an eye on each other.
These checks turn volunteers off, and have led to the collapse of essential support services. One volunteer organisation in Hampshire – which for years had run a local service driving elderly people to the shops – collapsed after the council demanded that the leader run Criminal Records Bureau checks on all volunteers.
So yes, it would be wonderful if people did more to help their elderly neighbours, and yes, the current abandonment is ‘uncivilised’. But if Lamb wants to get to the root of this problem, then he would do well to look at the uncivilised policies propagated by government, which treat help or care as a potential abuse situation requiring strenuous state regulation.
Josie Appleton is convenor of the Manifesto Club.