New research from Age UK reveals that 870,000 older people between 65 and 89 now have unmet needs for social care.
The research uncovers the fact that nearly a third (31.1%) of people who have difficulty in carrying out some essential activities of daily life do not receive any help formally from care workers or informally from family, friends or neighbours and are left to struggle alone. These are older people who require help with everyday tasks such as getting out of bed, washing, using the toilet or eating.
This overall figure of older people with unmet needs includes:
- 4 in 5 who need help taking their medication (200,000 out of 240,000)
- Over two thirds who find it hard to eat on their own (160,000 out of 250,000)
- A half who struggle to wash/get in the bath (500,000 out of a million – 1,010,000)
- Over two fifths who find it difficult to get dressed (590,000 out of 1,300,000m)
- More than 1 in 3 who find it difficult to go to the toilet (120,000 out of 350,000)
- And 1 in 3 who find it hard to get out of bed on their own (190,000 out of 570,000)
Between 2005/6 and 2012/13 the number of people aged 65 and over in receipt of social care services has dropped by more than a quarter (27.2 % - from 1,231,000 to 896,000) - even though this age group has grown by more than one million over the same period.
Despite rising demand from growing numbers of people in need of support, the amount spent on social care services for older people has fallen nationally by a massive £1.2 billion (15.4%).
The result is that today, access to publicly funded social care is more restricted than ever and in most local authority areas it is only currently available for those whose needs are assessed as being ‘substantial’ or ‘critical’ – leaving anyone who is assessed as ‘moderate’ without any help.
Yet 'moderate' typically includes someone who has problems carrying out one of these essential everyday tasks listed above. The new Care Act 2014 means local authorities will have to follow new rules determining who is eligible for care.
The Government is currently running a public consultation about this Guidance. The outcome will be crucial because it will determine who will and who will not receive care and support from April 2015 when the Care Act comes into force.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said: ‘It beggars belief that 1 in 3 older people who need some basic help with daily living are now having to do without it. And it is important to remember that the figures we analysed for this research only go up to age 89. It makes you wonder how many more thousands of people in their nineties are being left to struggle alone.
‘When older people begin to need some help with essential daily tasks like eating and washing they should expect that it will be there for them, yet it is increasingly beyond their reach. This is profoundly shocking, and it's a direct result of our care system being scaled back at the same time as the population of older people is growing.'
Abrahams continued: ‘Our national failure to invest properly in social care not only deprives older people of vital support, it also makes no economic sense: for example, an older person who struggles to eat is more likely to become ill and need expensive hospital treatment than if they receive some regular help with their meals: social care helps older people to stay well and keep their independence for longer.
‘The Care Act is fundamentally good legislation but underfunding means increasing numbers of older people are being shut out of the care system. The Government's draft guidance on eligibility for care suggests that from now on, the inability to do just one of these essential things like washing or dressing will not be enough to qualify you for support. It is not even certain that people with dementia who need help to continue to live at home with dignity will be entitled to it.
‘Older people deserve so much better. That's why Age UK is calling on the Government to change its Eligibility Guidance so that every older person who requires some help with an essential daily task can get it.'