Older people face an ongoing struggle to get the care they need, with 4.2 million people aged 75 and over living in areas that do not have enough care. Just one in four local areas in the UK report having enough older people’s care and two fifths of local authorities expect the shortages to get worse in a year’s time.
These are the findings of our second annual Older People’s Care Survey, which asked local authorities and health and social care trusts across the UK about the care for older people in their area.
The Family and Childcare Trust has over 40 years of experience in research into family life. We see every day in our work the difficult choices that families have to make when they are not able to find and afford care that they trust.
Our annual Childcare Surveys gather information from local authorities about the costs and availability of childcare. This work is widely recognised as the definitive source of information on childcare. We have used a similar methodology for our Older People’s Care Survey in order to shine the same spotlight on older people’s care, which is playing an increasing role in families’ lives as need grows.
Everyone should have the right to safe, comfortable and dignified care, and no one should have to be frightened about what will happen when they get old. Worryingly, our findings highlight that many people do not get to make positive choices about their care in later life.
Families are often thrust into looking for care suddenly. They rely on their local authority to help them navigate a complex care system, but may find that the information their local authority holds is too patchy to be helpful. A fifth of local authorities don’t know whether or not they have enough care. This raises serious concerns about local authorities’ ability to support families – both to make sure that enough care is provided and to provide older people and their families with the timely and accessible information they need to plan their care.
Older people and their families need to know what options are available to fund their care, but we also found inconsistencies in how different arrangements are being used across the UK, leaving some older people with fewer choices about paying for care. While one in four older people in the East Midlands are using third party top ups, only one in twenty are in the North East.
When it comes to finding suitable care, the people who are most likely to struggle are those who are most vulnerable. Fewer than two in five local areas have enough specialist nursing care, leaving those with the highest support needs facing the least choice and longest wait. This often means that the only care available is a hospital bed.
Fewer than half of local authorities report having enough home care in their area which can put tremendous stress on family members who are forced to fill the gap, exacerbating pressures on their own health, finances and ability to remain in full time employment. High quality home care can also help older people to maintain their independence for longer, reducing demand for more expensive residential care earlier than required.
It is clear that there is not enough care for older people. In large part, whether an older person is able to make genuine choices about their care is determined by where they live. This is unfair and puts immense pressure on families – often increasingly frail spouses – to fill the gap. These pressures are likely to increase as the need for care continues to grow. We stand by Independent Age’s call on Government to come up with a long-term sustainable solution to the funding gap. This would allow local authorities to make sure that there are enough safe, high quality care services available for everyone who needs them.
You can read more about the findings and recommendations made by the Family and Childcare Trust in the Older People’s Care Survey 2017.