This story has been on my mind over the last few days.
Increasingly, old people in this country are cared for at home. In some ways, we can be proud of this- people no longer go ‘into a home’ as they become more needful of care, unless they need ‘nursing care’ (which is often a rather ambiguous distinction however.)
This means that increasing numbers of older, frail people are living in their own homes, dependent on electronic monitoring systems and visits by care workers to assist with meals, toileting, even transfers from bed to chair.
And here is the problem. The cost of all this care is squeezed so tight that care workers have tiny slices of minutes before rushing on to the next home. Home care workers have long stopped all activities that are not deemed to be entirely necessary for physical care (cleaning, socializing, sitting with a cup of tea for a chat, shopping.)
Leonard Cheshire care have said that they will no longer participate in any contracts that slice care into 15 minute slots. Good for them. However, the real issue is the degree to which we allow care for our elders (the carriers of wisdom, learning and knowledge) to default to such a low common denominator.
Most home care is now provided by private or voluntary agencies whose workers are probably the lowest paid people in society. Councils are constantly trying to find ways of driving costs down, by re tendering or raising the thresholds for what they will provide. They describe the very real economic factors that force them to do this- reduced funding from central government, increased numbers of older people requiring care etc. These are complex, difficult times for social care provision and let no one pretend that the fault lies with the people trying to manage the front line of care. Some of the people (almost exclusively women) who do the hands on work are, in my opinion, only one step removed from sainthood.
But, forgive me for making a rather cliched simplistic point- Trident nuclear submarines cost about £2.5 billion per annum.
And another one- would an extra pound of tax per month from your wage slip make that much difference?
These are economic decisions that our government regards as politically unacceptable.
Yet we can live with the loneliness and isolation we inflict on our elders.
The world has become these walls
Covered in pictures of what we once were
Before your heart stopped beating
Some days she hears him whispering
Pulling her closer
No regrets my love-
Just all our memories
Cradle to the grave
Each morning she waits for chemical relief
The meat of her is in rebellion
Each joint swollen like wet wood
Each vein pumping pitch black blood
Skin like a stone dressed in lichen
There is the rattle of the key from the keysafe
She stiffens, steels herself for dependency
As a stranger in a green tabard clamours in, high on bonhomie
The clock starts
How do I use of my fifteen minutes?
A hot meal or a warm bath?
That commode is unmentionable
What was it they said about having to pay for domestic care?
How did it get to this?
Then the girl is gone
And she sits alone again
Before her wall of memories