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Thursday, September 16, 1999 Published at 12:26 GMT 13:26 UK


Elderly homes 'are like Victorian workhouses'

Elderly people are being forced to give up their independence

Elderly people are being forced into residential homes in the same way the poor were made to go into the workhouse in Victorian times, says a report.

Help the Aged says residential care should not be one of the main options for elderly care in 25 years' time.

It believes old people are being pushed into homes or sheltered accommodation because of "archaic" and "ageist" housing policies which do not encourage them to stay independent.

Its report, Housing and Older People in 2025, states that the concentration on residential care dates back a thousand years to the building of almshouses and "foster separatism and social exclusion".

"Residential homes and sheltered housing have militated against the integration, involvement and empowerment of older people," it argues, calling for a "new direction" in elderly care for the next millennium.

Experts predict that the number of people aged over 60 could rise by up to 40% in the next 30 years.

The report criticises the lack of resources for helping old people adapt their homes to their changing needs and inadequate home help provision.

This is despite research showing this approach can save money, preventing falls in the home which can lead to hospitalisation and a situation where residential care becomes the only option.

The report says warden-controlled residential homes and sheltered housing cut pensioners off from the community they live in and from any say in decisions which affect their lives.


It calls on policy makers to be more flexible in their approach and back more imaginative, hi-tech methods of helping people stay independent in their own homes, such as remote control door locks and automatic water control devices that prevent overflowing.

It also backs retirement villages, which allow them to live at home, but get the extra support they need.

Malcolm Fisk, author of the report, said: "The choices are clear. Either we change our attitudes and embrace new designs and practices, or in 2025, our generation will be fighting a hopeless battle to stay independent."

He sets out 11 parameters for improving housing, including promotion of integrated environments.

He also outlines 11 areas which need immediate action, for example, helping to get elderly people online so they are fully informed of their options.

Mike Ellison, head of housing information and policy at the Care and Repair charity, says part of the reason pensioners were not being supported to live in their own homes or faced significant delays in getting adaptations was a shortage of occupational therapists, a lack of resources and growing demand for services.

He said independent living was generally much cheaper than residential care, but many local authorities were too busy fire-fighting to put sufficient resources into preventive care.

"Their residential care budget may be fully committed so it is not just as simple as redirecting money from residential care to adaptations and home help," he said.

The government is working on a new policy to promote a more preventive approach to the care of vulnerable people.

This is likely to be introduced in 2003 and Care and Repair hopes this will be properly funded.

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