I recently hosted my first debate in the House of Commons and I chose to do it on the quality of care for older people in state funded residential care.
For a long time now I’ve been looking into this because I think everyone should live out their later years in comfort, dignity, and with all the friendship and fun that we aspire to at every other stage of life. But the more I look into the provision of state-funded residential care the more I worry about its ability to provide this.
There are two massive challenges faced by those providing state-funded care. Firstly, the minimum wage will soon rise substantially. This is very welcome because it’s terrible that the care sector has become so synonymous with low pay. But the reason this has happened is because government offers so little to providers of care. For example, government pays about £550 per week to care for an elderly person, but a privately funded resident in the same home will pay about £1,200 (and to add context, it costs about £3,000 per week for an elderly person to be cared for in hospital which comes out of a different budget, but that’s another story!). So unless the amount of money government is willing to pay increases, the rise in minimum wage will make it very difficult to provide care with any quality at all.
Secondly, the government have announced what is called a ‘precept’. This allows local authorities to increase council tax by 2% in order to fund adult social care. Our local authority has done this and I am pleased they have. But think about how this works nationwide. Places like Surrey in the South of England have a very high percentage of people paying council tax and a lot of people in the higher bands so a lot of money is raised by the precept, plus a very low number of people in redicential care relying on state funding. In fact the vast majority are privately funded. But in the North East of England you have the lowest rates of council tax revenue and the highest dependence on state funded residential care and in those areas the 2% increase will be a small drop in the ocean.
I believe that unless this situation is dealt with many of the small independent care homes will either go bust or stop providing state funded care and move entirely to private residents simply because they cannot afford to operate. I have now met with many small providers as well as the chains. The vast majority make only small profits and care deeply about their residents and the care they give. They, and the elderly residents they care for, are in a heartbreaking situation which is why I have done all I can to give them voice in parliament.
A recent report said that 32,000 residents are at risk if the worst case scenario plays out. I have asked dozens of parliamentary questions, I’ve challenged ministers, and now I have called a full Commons debate in order to put these issues directly to ministers. As you can see I ask the health minister directly, “do you have plans in place in case hundreds of care homes close or end contracts making thousands of elderly people homeless?”.
Please let me know your experiences with residential care homes and if you have experienced any of the worries that I’ve talked about. I will continue to champion this issue as strongly as I can simply because older people deserve the best and they deserve security and I fear this government is in danger of letting them down badly. All the best, Peter