By Leon A Smith
August 17, 2011
Recent months have seen a proportionate yet somewhat unusual emphasis on issues relating to older people in the media. The majority of issues covered in these stories have been negative and “bad news” stories – standards of care and whistleblowing in relation to these, the financial woes of care home operators etc. However one story that could be perceived as being more positive is that of the recommendations of the Commission led by Andrew Dilnot into the complex issue of funding of long term care for older people. This received extensive coverage in both print and electronic media to the extent that I was beginning to believe that once and for all the older people’s agenda really had risen to the forefront of the public’s consciousness however short lived and temporary that prioritisation appears to have lasted. Overwhelming coverage of the telephone hacking scandal to saturation point initially was one of the contributing factors towards the eclipse of the older people’s agenda. Subsequently the financial woes of the Euro and the recent stock market slump have also accounted for a high proportion of the available column inches in our newspapers. The mindless rioting and looting that has taken place throughout our nation similarly received a vast amount of coverage and continues to do so including extensive in depth analysis and rhetorical comment pieces.
So where does this leave the focus on older people? Regretfully – back where it started. That is low down both the political and public agenda. One might argue that the issues following the current economic situation and the recent rioting are indeed far more important than anything else in the immediate future and that may well be true.
Notwithstanding all of this the issue of funding of older people has not gone away and will not go away. The welcome content of the Dilnot Commission was not met with universal endorsement and, indeed, the Coalition government have been non-committal in which aspects of the range of recommendations are to be accepted and incorporated into the promised White Paper. But will that White Paper now appear next spring? And to what extent have the Dilnot recommendations been watered down.
My fear is that in a time of ever increasing and competing priorities, those of older people will have slumped further in the rankings. Indeed there will now be considerable competition for parliamentary time while the government try and mend our broken society! Obviously for political reasons the issues which have led to the rioting and looting have to be addressed, albeit these will not be quick fixes. Indeed some in the glass-half-empty brigade may even argue that it’s too late. The real causes are poverty, deprivation, lack of employment, poor parenting, poor literacy skills and so on. What will it take to turn these issues around? Realistically one must accept that these issues will take a generation to address. In the meantime, thanks to medical science, healthy eating, and so forth the number of older people is ever increasing. These numbers will never decline – they will only ever go up. We can therefore argue that this is a growing segment of our population in greater need than ever of our attention.
The issues regarding the funding of older people, pension, etc, are not new. We have seen them coming and indeed they have been clearly predictable since the late 40’s and 50’s – 60 to 70 years ago, as it began to emerge that we were going to have a Baby Boom generation! But what have successive governments done to factor in a predictable population bulge which they have known of for all these years? The answer is sadly, very little! Today we read that a child born today will have a 1 in 3 chance of living to 100. What true value would that be if we continue to fail to have plans in place for this ever increasing population.
Unfortunately without planning it is likely that we will continue to exist in an environment where issues regarding funding remain simply too difficult to handle. Could it be that successive governments – consciously or sub-consciously – believe that the problem is so complicated and, indeed in their eyes so long term, that it will effectively be somebody else’s problem further down the line. It is this kind of lack of long termism in government planning which has led to under investment in so many areas of our lives. This includes not only planning for older people but other issues such as under investment in our infrastructure. It is likely that this mentality will continue unless this and/or future governments have the vision or commitment to understand that they have a responsibility not only to address the issues which are affecting society today but also those of future generations to come.