The BBC was this morning reporting on the results of a survey by the Residents and Relatives Association. The top finding was that some 40,000 older people in care homes are “socially isolated”.
We shouldn’t be surprised by this, and the aim of any effective social care system should be to keep individuals out of care homes for as long as possible. Not only does this cost the tax payer less money, but it means the individual (and their families) are happier.
There are 5 relevant points to make about this finding in the context of the current political climate.
1. In the Comprehensive Spending Review, George Osborne said he is going to end the payment of the mobility component of the Disability Living Allowance for people in residential care. This is a vital support for people who get it since it enables them to access opportunities in their local community or, even at the most fundamental level, move freely around the care home. Thus, this decision on the mobility component of DLA will exacerbate people’s social isolation in care homes.
2. As has been well documented, the coalition government is looking to introduce medical tests for Disability Living Allowance from 2013, with a view to saving approximately 20% of the current DLA bill. DLA is a vital non-work related benefit that supports people to meet the extra costs of disability. If this support is removed it will harm people’s ability to live independently and thus increases the likelihood of people moving to a care home earlier than they or their families may wish them to.
3. The Independent Living Fund is currently closed to new applicants. The ILF precisely supports people eligible for social care support to live independently in their own homes and communities, indeed going further than DLA does in providing this targeted support. Whilst the future of the ILF remains in doubt, this is another factor that increases the likelihood of people moving to a care home.
4. In the run up to the general election, the Tories suggested individuals make a one-off payment of £8,000 and can then live in whichever care home they wanted to. I was worried at the time that the Tories thought the solution to providing social care for people is to move them out of their own home and into residential care. I hope today’s finding continues to convince them of the error in that thinking.
5. The coalition government has said that the take-up of cash payments by individuals – taking the cash equivalent of a service provided by the local authority in order to take more choice and control over how care and support is arranged – has not happened fast enough. And they’re right. Supporting people to take more of the care and support as cash payments will enable people to live independently, in their own homes or communities, and therefore not be subject to the social isolation prevalent in care homes.
That there is social isolation for 40,000 people in care homes is not surprising to anyone with a passing knowledge of the social system. To date, the coalition government’s decisions on a range of disability benefits and funding streams makes it more and not less likely that people will be in care homes, and so face the possibility of social isolation.