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Last Updated: Monday, 29 September, 2003, 16:06 GMT 17:06 UK
Free personal elderly care urged
Elderly person
Nursing care is paid for, but not personal care
A lack of free personal care for the elderly is forcing thousands to sell their homes, says a Royal Commission.

The problem remains "acute and a matter of major public concern", the nine commissioners claimed in a highly critical statement on Monday.

Four years ago the commissioners reviewed elderly care provision on the orders of the newly elected government.

Labour should have followed the report recommendations and introduced free personal care, they said.

Ministers are treating the elderly in England like third-class citizens
Paul Burstow

Ministers promised to pay for nursing care, but only the Scottish Executive has extended this to personal care, such as washing, cooking and eating.

As a result, thousands of elderly people have been forced to sell their homes, the commissioners said on Monday.

They urged ministers to intervene to end the "anomalies and injustices" of the present system.

"Many of the current generation of older people and their families continue to feel betrayed by the failure of what they had been led to believe was a 'cradle to grave' welfare state to fund their care properly," the statement said.

"Some are struggling inappropriately with care at home because they cannot afford the residential care they need.

Elderly person
Many care homes are closing due to a funding crisis
"Others are bitter at the enforced loss of their home, and of the dignity that goes with it, to pay for their care."

The commissioners, chaired by Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, said free personal care would cost a "modest" 1.1bn.

They said that the government's had failed to respond to the problem of "bed blocking" by elderly patients unable to leave hospital after routine operations because they could not look after themselves at home.

They highlighted the contrast between cancer patients, who usually had all their care costs met by the state, and those with degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, who did not.


The director general of Age Concern England, Gordon Lishman, said it was a "powerful indictment" of failure.

Liberal Democrat spokesman for the elderly, Paul Burstow, said his research suggested 420,000 people in the UK had sold their homes to pay for personal care.

He said: "Ministers are treating the elderly in England like third class citizens.

"Their failure to follow Scotland's lead and make personal care free on the basis of need should haunt Tony Blair.

"Labour's cheapskate 'free-nursing care' scheme is a cruel hoax, which leaves frail elderly people picking up much of the bill for the most basic and intimate care they need."

Geoffrey Dennis, chief executive of Friends of the Elderly, urged ministers to take action.

"The government's failure is not just affecting older people now. It is going to affect tomorrow's generation of senior citizens."

Read a selection of your comments on this issue below.

They have rights but also responsibilities
Mike R, UK
Why do we consider houses as a unique form of wealth that should be exempt from consideration of ability to pay? The elderly aren't children - they have rights but also responsibilities, and if they are wealthy they can pay for their own care, whatever form that wealth takes. Of course the poor should be protected, young or old. But if you have hundreds of thousands of pounds in wealth, you can look after yourself.
Mike R, UK

As my mother requires 24 hour care in a nursing home I find the whole situation deeply distasteful. We appear to be able to help every Tom, Dick and Harry, but not the people who we should be looking after, those people who have paid into the system all their working lives and now find that the only way they can obtain medical care is to pay for it themselves
P. Newbold, England

My uncle is 94 and has to pay out nearly 2000 per month to live in a care home. He worked until he was over 80 years old and surely he should be entitled to free care.
Jacqui Giacchetto, England

Her sole asset was her home which she had to sell to pay costs
J.K. Sedman, England
At 97 my mother is certainly of the generation which feels betrayed over the cost of elderly care provision. Her sole asset was her home which she had to sell to pay costs in an "extra care" home which provides 24 hour support but does not qualify as nursing care. The invested proceeds from this sale are dwindling alarmingly. Only the Inland Revenue are on the ball and they are never delinquent in securing tax on interest income. When her assets are eventually reduced to 16,000 another public organisation will have to start to pay my mother's costs.
J.K. Sedman, England

Of course all elderly people should get this care free. They were promised it 'cradle to grave'. Whether they have their own homes or not, they have paid into the system and should get something back.
Marie Firth, UK

England treats its senior citizens terribly. It is time that they were looked after properly - we are one of the richest economies in the world.
Claire Walsh, UK

The BBC's Alison Holt
"Charities say care for the elderly is in crisis"

Q&A: Bed-blocking
17 Sep 03  |  Health
Nurses condemn care home crisis
28 Apr 03  |  Health

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