THE Care Bill is a bid to tackle the agreeable problem that we live in a society where more people are living for longer.
It sets a cap on what people will have to pay for their care and a minimum threshold of need at which people will be eligible for social care.
But the critics are not hopeful. There is the demographic challenge, the slashing of budgets and concern that the reforms will bankrupt local authorities without necessarily making care any more affordable.
This is where community comes in. The idea is that communities have an important role to play in supporting old people. As former Care and Support Minister Paul Burstow says, “without community, independence can become miserable isolation”.
While we might expect care workers to have regard to the person they are caring for, they can’t take the place of neighbours, family and friends.
Norman Lamb, the current Care and Support Minister, has therefore proposed the setting up of Neighbourhood Watch-style schemes. But can we really expect people to act in a neighbourly way? Negligent, if not downright abusive, neighbours are apparently responsible for the loneliness and isolation experienced by many pensioners.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has referred to this as our “national shame”.
He argues that, instead of putting our elderly relatives in care homes, we should adopt the “reverence and respect” towards the elderly typical of Asian societies and, presumably, accommodate them ourselves.
But can we put our trust in our families and communities when local authorities too, in an effort to appear pro-actively protecting ‘vulnerable’ older folk, would rather give the impression that we are routinely abusing them in their own homes?
Despite these mixed messages, most of us understand that our communities are, on the whole, safe and caring places. But community is all about relationships and these are made possible by a good degree of mutual trust.
This trust is being eroded by the obsession with alleged abuse and neglect on the part of the authorities.
Confirming people’s worst fears is hardly conducive to building a sense of community. Indeed, the interventions of supposed protectors of the vulnerable represent the biggest threat to community, by actively undermining the relationships that underpin it.
Communities really can, and often do, play a safeguarding role towards those who, as a consequence of old age, ill health or disability, may need support.
While an unburdening of the state and a reburdening of communities is no answer to the elderly care problem, there is much to recommend the idea that neighbours, by looking out for each other, can safeguard vulnerable people.
First published in Derby Telegraph