Whitehaven News column – 22nd January 2015

Older people left to battle alone

Age UK is a brilliant voluntary organization – one of the best I’ve ever worked with – and it makes a remarkable difference to the lives of older people in our country. Independent and non-partisan, Age UK provides uniquely effective and authentic advocacy on behalf of Britain’s older people.

Today, Age UK today published figures that show despite rising demand from growing numbers of people in need of support, the amount spent on social care services for older people has fallen nationally by £1.1 billion (14.4%) since 2010/11.

In 2005/6 15.3% of all people aged 65 and over (1,230,625) received social care. By 2010/11 that number had dropped to 12.4% and today just 9.1% of older people (849,280) receive any support. In total this now represents a reduction of over 40% over that period while at the same time the number of people aged 65 and over has increased by 15.6%  or 1,254,879.

It’s a matter of fact that the government has decimated spending on adult social care. It’s a matter of fact, too, that this is one of the principal government policies that is so badly affecting the NHS and A&E units across the country as they struggle to cope with the consequent increasing demands placed upon them. An already intolerable situation has now become a genuine crisis.

Commenting on the figures, Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said that “our State funded social care system is in calamitous, quite rapid decline.” She’s right. Going further Abrahams commented that “Hundreds of thousands of older people who need social care are being left high and dry” before attributing much of the cause for the crisis to “the marked decline in central Government funding for social care and the resultant reduction in support for older people to live independently at home.”

We are repeatedly told that Britain is an ageing population, but the challenges of an ageing population – and as a result the kind of challenges highlighted by Age UK, are felt particularly keenly in Cumbria. This has to change. For too long, these issues have been kept below the radar as older individuals, their careers and their families have struggled; but this is an issue that is now about to explode. Sadly, the government was warned that its policies would worsen the lot of older people in need of adult social care. It ignored those warnings. Next week, the Labour Health Frontbench will table solutions to help solve the problem and improve the lives of millions of older people. Watch this space.

Zero choice on zero hours contracts

A graphic symbol of what is wrong with the way this country is run is the army of people working on zero-hours contracts with no security while a few people at the top get away with paying zero tax.

Zero-hours contracts are becoming the norm in parts of our economy. Their numbers have increased to 1.4 million since this government came to power.

It has left too many people not knowing how they will make ends meet from one week to the next, and unable to plan for the future.  I recently spoke with local workers on zero hours contracts who are asked to drive over 40 miles to turn up for work, only to be told on their arrival that they are not needed. It’s reminiscent of scenes from the Great Depression. Workers turning up at factory gates to beg for work, knowing they would be exploited yet grateful for whatever pittance they could earn. The rates of pay are truly shocking – but refuse to take a zero hours contract job and you aren’t entitled to any support from the government: it’s a policy of exploitation or nothing.

We cannot go on with an economy that allows businesses to use zero-hours contracts as the standard way of employing people month after month, year after year. Labour will get rid of exploitative zero hours contracts, but until we reach that point too many people will suffer.

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