Family caregivers over 80 years of age are saving the government £23 billion a year. They are the army of unpaid carers looking after family members, providing 23 billion hours of unpaid care a year.
Age UK research shows that 1 in 3 (30 per cent) of older people aged 80 and over are carers and since 2010 the number of carers in this age group has rocketed by nearly a quarter (23 per cent) to 970,000. Most of them, 7 out of 10, have health problems of their own with nearly 46 percent having difficulty with moving about at home, walking or lifting carrying or moving objects.
They include people like Len, who at 84 is full time carer for his wife. Len has only one hand, arthritis of the spine, and has suffered two strokes. He said, ‘I don’t have time to think about me! I didn’t even realise I’d even had had one stroke, let alone two! We’ve each worked for most of our lives, paying our taxes which we still pay on our pensions, which seems grossly unfair.”
In his first speech as prime minister, Boris Johnson pledged all to “fix the crisis in social care once and for all, and with a clear plan we have prepared to give every older person the dignity and security they deserve.” It is early days, but there is still no plan or even an inkling of a plan. Instead the Queen’s speech promised only to try to reach a “cross-party agreement”, something that most experts have agreed is unlikely. These cross-party talks have taken place before. Everyone agrees on the need and the priorities, but they fall out over how it should be funded. In the meantime the government is to give local authorities £1 bn to keep the system afloat a little longer.
Older people often don’t see themselves as ‘caregivers. They are simply looking after their wives, or busbands, or mums or dads. (Today there are children in their 70s with parents aged 100 or more). Even if social care support was widely available, they wouldn’t see themselves as eligible for it. So they carry on bearing unimaginable burdens until often, their health falters. Many older caregivers develop conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and rheumatism, and dementia; lives can be shortened by an average of seven years. The hardest role is to care for a loved one with dementia.
As we go to press the Prime Minister has indicated that it may be five years before a social care plan is in place. In the interview he acknowledged that the crisis in the NHS could not be solved ‘without a revolution in the way we approach social care.’ [i] A plan would be produced in the first year of Government but it could be five years before it is implemented.
In the meantime, millions of older people have been denied social care, according to Age UK, and every day 81 older people are dying without care or support.
In the meantime, families are individual caregivers are paying the price with ill-health and even early death. Linda, whose true-life story is told in ‘Dementia: Frank and Linda’s story’ developed crippling rheumatoid arthritis as she cared for her husband, Frank. They had been childhood sweethearts and though she longed to him to be able to stay at home until the end, she became too frail to cope and he had to go into residential care. Their story includes all the things that helped, and all those that didn’t. In an online review a community nurse wrote, “Although this book is written from a Christian perspective, I have not hesitated to recommend it to my colleagues who are not Christians. It is both spiritually and emotionally inspirational, and also filled with practical advice laid out in a format that is easy to follow.” Family caregivers often don’t have time to read a book, but people in the churches who go out of their way to give support