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In Tory Britain, old people are like 'robots to be serviced'

Picture this graphic illustration of Two Britains. While hedge funds and big investors can choose whether to cash in on the Royal Mail sell-off, the choice for thousands of older and disabled people is whether to go thirsty or go to the toilet.

The City is eagerly buying up Royal Mail shares, which, by all accounts, have been under-priced by the ConDems to such an extent that investors can anticipate a 40% instant profit when they start trading next week. For some of the least privileged in our society, mere survival is the name of the game.

Increasing numbers of older people and many with disabilities in their own homes depend on some help with basic necessities like dressing, bathing and eating. Those with some savings can “buy-in” private care at their own expense. The majority, however, look to their local council to provide what is known as “adult social care”.

If only the name lived up to its promise. A report by the charity Leonard Cheshire Disability condemns a sharp increase in what it terms “disgraceful” short care visits lasting just 15-minutes. These are used by 60% of councils in England and they are not long enough to provide adequate care.

Chief executive Clare Pelham said visits should be at least 30 minutes long. "It is disgraceful to force disabled people to choose whether to go thirsty or to go to the toilet by providing care visits as short as 15 minutes long," she said. Most people need 40 minutes to get up, washed, dressed and have breakfast. "We are treating disabled and older people as if they are robots to be serviced, rather than real people who deserve to be treated with kindness and consideration," she added.
The proportion of visits which lasted 15 minutes or less has risen by 15% over the past five years. And some local authorities deliver more than three-quarters of their care visits in 15 minutes. As the ConDems have only been in office for under 3.5 years, this began under the previous New Labour government.

But there’s no doubt that cuts in social service budgets imposed by the coalition government since 2010 have hit the most vulnerable the hardest. In May, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services warned a “bleak outlook” was becoming “bleaker”. Research showed that £800m was to be taken from the central budget in 2013-14, following the loss of £2 billion in the previous two years.

Naturally, the local bureaucracy and elected councillors have simply passed on the cuts. Defending the indefensible, Sandie Keene, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass), which represents care managers said some short visits were "fully justified and fully adequate".

Social workers and their managers had to make "horrendously difficult choices" every day to give the best possible care with limited resources. Perhaps it’s about time some of them said “No”, we can’t provide care on this basis? I’m not holding my breath for such an announcement.

The other issue is who provides the 15-minutes of “care”. Much of this work is now “outsourced” to the private sector, and has been since the 1990s. A survey of social service practitioners showed that most believed the quality of adult care had deteriorated because of large-scale outsourcing. Nine out ten thought outsourcing had been driven by cost cutting.

So while older people and the disabled suffer from cuts in spending and are often dismayed by poorly-trained care workers, the wealthy elites are cashing in on a fire sale of state assets. If there was ever a case for turning our wretched capitalist society upside down, this is surely it.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
7 October 2013

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