As the social care sector faces a funding crisis, Stephen Hammersley, Chief Executive of Pilgrims’ Friend Society, explores the role our organisation can play as an example of best practice
“Praise God for Edith, thank you for her service and thank you that she will now bless our family” was how the manager of one of our care homes prayed for Edith as she moved into our home. That is how older people are seen by us and should be treated: valued and esteemed and as a blessing to others, with what they have to offer being celebrated, rather than what they can no longer do taking centre stage.
As Psalm 92 tells us, the godly ‘will still produce fruit’ in old age, remaining ‘vital and green’. This biblical view of older people is the light that needs to shine out from Christian people at a time when we as a nation are facing a mounting crisis in the provision of social care.
A growing need
As our aging population increases, so does the number of people needing care. Currently, there are over 5.4 million people in the UK who are aged over 75 and 1.6 million who are over 85. The over-85s are the fastest growing age group, set to double to 3.2 million by mid-2041.
At the same time, more people are needing care. According to a report from The King’s Fund in February 2021, Government funding to local authorities has lagged badly and total spending by local authorities on adult social care was only a little more in real terms in 2019/20 than in 2010/11 despite massively increasing demand, and fewer people are receiving publicly funded care.
According to a report by Age Concern, there are 1.4 million older people right now who do not have access to the care and support they need. The Competition and Markets Authority report that government is not paying the full costs of the care that older people need. As a nation, we are edging ever more deeply into a social care crisis.
When I served at Tearfund, there were two main ways we categorised disasters. There were ‘sudden on-set’ disasters, like tidal waves or earthquakes, which required a fast response. Then there were ‘slow on-set’ disasters, like failed rains which led to failed crops and, eventually, to famine. For slow on-set disasters, the goal was always to take action in the early stages. Fail to do so, and catastrophic disaster would creep up and overwhelm you by degrees.
The situation we as a nation find ourselves in with regard to our provision of social care for older people can be compared to a slow on-set disaster. Disaster and crisis will come when we are not adequately funding the care of older people who can’t afford to pay for their own care when they need help.
Social care reform?
Rather than making use of the time we have to adjust and plan for a good future, successive governments have kicked the can down the road. On his first day in office, Boris Johnson stood outside number 10 Downing Street and promised: “We will fix the crisis in social care once and for all.” And yet in the Queen’s Speech in early May, social care reform got barely a mention, with no plans of substance forthcoming.
This was hugely disappointing, although perhaps not entirely unexpected. Indeed, every Prime Minister over the past 20 years has sensed the on-set of a slowly building crisis and made a pledge to reform social care, and then seemingly baulked when faced with magnitude and complexity of the task. As Christians, we need to pray that this promised reform comes to fruition.
Because really, there is no other acceptable option. As the events of the past year have revealed, neglecting the social care sector leads to devastating consequences. The relative lack of priority given to adult social care was at least partly why there was poor provision of PPE to care homes in the early stages of the pandemic; why people who were Covid-positive were discharged from hospitals to care homes; and why guidance for care homes was often late.
The challenges that the system presents to care providers like us are stark. If people can pay, they do. If they cannot pay, we either refuse admission or take what the Local Authority provides (which doesn’t cover the full cost) and subsidise the rest which means that we are under pressure to find the money we need to develop our work.
Honouring older people
At Pilgrims’ Friend Society we will always be dedicated to caring for people in a way that honours them, despite challenging circumstances. For our organisation, our motivation springs from the biblical belief that we have a duty to care for God’s precious older people and to celebrate their gifts and to let them bless us. In Psalm 71:9 the Psalmist pleads, ‘Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent.’
Through our approach to care, The Way We Care, we get to know each person as an individual, understanding their life history and taking into account their wishes and preferences. We recognise each person as a spiritual being and support them to keep walking with the Lord and we too in turn are encouraged by what they have to offer.
Through our Renewal Programme, we’re making sure we are equipped to provide excellent care for older people far into the future.
My prayer, though, is that we become part of something bigger as everyone sees God’s purposes for older people shining brightly through the work of Pilgrims’ Friend Society as we value and esteem those who live with us. And God willing those in government will see that too and will set the right priorities and provide adequate resources so that excellent provision becomes the norm for everyone.
Partnership and support
We hope too, that through working in partnership with others, that light will shine even more brightly still. We’re pleased to stand in solidarity with other Christian care providers like Key Change, Mission Care and The Salvation Army. We work alongside our sister charity Faith in Later Life to champion the needs of older people.
And because we accept people based on need rather than whether the funding package covers our costs, the support of those who are able to give financially makes a huge difference to us. If you think you can help, please see our Giving page.
As Christians, let’s ensure that we are there to meet their needs, and at the same time blaze a trail for social care reform. We’d love to welcome more supporters as we grow and develop our work and shine a light for how God designed things to be. If you know someone who would be interested in receiving our magazine please do encourage them to sign up.
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