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We are “living on borrowed time” in our failing efforts to save England’s system of social care for older people.

That is the conclusion of a new report just published by respected charity and campaign group Age UK. Now it is calling on the Government to wake up and recognise the imminent danger of collapse in the social care system, and take urgent action to prevent it.

Entitled “The Health and Care of Older People in England 2017”, the annual report aims to shine a light on how the system of health and care is working for older people across the country. But the picture it paints is a very worrying one, of an already overstressed system struggling – and often failing – to meet the needs of an increasingly ageing population.

Setting the scene, the report notes that the number of people living in England and aged over 85 has increased by more than a third in the past decade and is predicted to more than double over the next 20 years. By their late 80s more than one in three people has difficulties undertaking five or more tasks of daily living without help. Between a quarter and half of the 85+ age group are frail and likely to need health services and care support. 

In contrast, the report notes a £160 million ‘real terms’ cut in total spending on older people’s social care in the five years up to 2015/16. By 2020/21 public spending on social care would need to increase by a minimum of £1.65 billion (to a total of £9.99 billion) in order to realistically meet the needs of England’s growing ageing population.

The comprehensive 68-page report demonstrates the significant challenges facing older people who need care, and whose numbers are growing every day. It also highlights the impact on their families and the NHS of failing to effectively provide that social care. For example, more elderly people are having to remain longer in hospital, despite being medically fit for discharge, because there is inadequate social care for them in the community. This is putting a huge strain and cost on the NHS.

According to the report, there are now 1.2 million people aged 65 and over in England who are not receiving the care and support they need with essential daily living tasks. This equates to one in eight older people – an increase of almost 18% on last year and 48% since 2010. If the situation continues to escalate at that rate, the social care system will not cope.

As well as the impact on hospitals, and longer waits for residential care, the crisis is also hitting the families of older people, who have no choice but to step in as unpaid carers. More people are now providing regular care for an elderly family member, and the level of care provided is increasingly complex, says the report. More than two million of these unpaid carers are themselves aged over 65 and have a health condition or disability of their own to cope with.

In its conclusions, the report states: “This report makes two things uncomfortably clear: that we aren’t remotely where we need to be yet in creating the right health and care system for our growing older population, and sadly that many of today’s older people are suffering as a result.”

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, commented: “The Government has tried to prop up older people’s social care in three ways: through financial transfers from the NHS, a social care precept in local areas, and by calling on families and friends to do more. Unfortunately, our analysis shows there are problems with all three approaches, which in any event are not enough to make up for the chronic shortfall in public funds.”

Now Age UK is calling on the Government to take immediate action to prevent a collapse in social care, and begin planning a realistic long-term approach to providing effective social care in the future. It wants the Government to:

  • Recognise the imminent danger which social care is now in and commit to an urgent injection of funds in this year’s Spring Budget.
  • Lead a process for developing a long-term solution to the care crisis that incorporates the views of older and disabled people and all parts of the health and care sector.

In response, a spokesman for the Department of Health said the Government has already taken measures to improve the provision of social care and is “working to find a long-term, sustainable solution”.

To read or download the Age UK report in full, click here.

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