The TODAY programme on radio 4 is always good for a bit of care sector bashing. This morning it was the inadequate nature of care for the elderly in their home. There isn’t enough money, no-one wants to work for the wages, staff don’t stay and the home visits are getting ever shorter. Alas, I’d heard it rather a lot since the last election. What struck me was the interview with the elderly lady complaining that what she really wanted was ‘time to chat. I’d really love a chat’.
Age Concern have started a campaign, well actually I think it’s ongoing, to‘adopt a granny’. According to the charity, 49% of the over 65s live alone and 7% (that’s 700,000 people living in the UK) describe themselves as lonely.
I worked with a Kenyan lady in her 40s who told me of her experience of the care sector in her homeland as she remembered it when growing up. There wasn’t any. After grandpa died grandma came to live with her extended family. In the absence of any state provision she had to. She was, however, in great demand amongst her children as she provided free child care and she was as happy as she had ever been surrounded by her grand children although she occasionally hid in order to get some privacy. My Kenyan friend couldn’t understand why there was a crisis in the provision of childcare in the UK when half the over 65s lived alone. She just thought it odd. And sad. And the solution obvious.
To be fair few of us in the UK have made the conscious decision to abandon our parents in a dark corner whilst squandering any spare cash on a round the world cruise. Most of us own cars and can up sticks to live hundreds of miles away from mum and dad. And we’ve been encouraged to go wherever the good jobs are. In Kenya they live very close and, apparently, it is expected that the elderly will end their days in the house of a family member. Not to do so is unusual, even disreputable. There is no such cultural pressure in the UK. And of course the long, slow decline from cancer or alzheimers is much less in a society without advanced health care: ‘my grandma was never a burden – all the children loved her’.
Most of us in the UK have children and most of us will one day grow old. I think we need something no government can give us – a cultural change in our attitude towards older people. Quite how we achieve this I don’t know. Education? A campaign? But we must do something, otherwise what’s the point in living into old age anyway?
All suggestions gratefully received…