In current times, when pension provisions are limited, the cost of care homes are increasing and we are all said to be living longer, many of us we find ourselves in the difficult position where we have to decide what to do about the care of our aging grandparents or parents who can no longer live independently. In fact 1 in 7 of the working UK population find themselves having to juggle their job with the responsibility of providing unpaid care for a relative.
Where do you start?
Choosing the right type of care option for a loved one can be one of the hardest and most stressful experiences you can go through. Knowing what will be best for them, how much it will cost, what is best for the rest of the family and where to even start are all daunting questions.
Like many public services, the elderly care sector is largely underfunded, which is perhaps why some people turn to the private sector to have more choice in the care and support available to them.
In England, the Government has an ongoing review of social care policy, in particular how it is funded by individuals and the public sector. The Government indicated it would publish a consultative Green Paper on the topic in 2017, but in July 2019 the Financial Times (FT) reported that the then new Prime Minister may decide that a White Paper should be published instead, however we still haven’t seen anything conclusive to give elderly social care the attention it needs.
The FT stated that ‘The UK needs an adequately funded and integrated health and social care service focused on helping people live longer lives more independently and in better health. It will cost more. The government must be careful and equitable in how it distributes the additional financial burden. A parliamentary commission, on whose conclusions the government could lean, would help it find the best way forward.’
The CQC report titled ‘The state of healthcare and adult social care in England 2018/2019’ states in its opening summary: “Most of the care that we see across England is good quality and, overall, the quality is improving slightly. But people do not always have good experiences of care and they have told us about the difficulties they face in trying to get care and support. Sometimes people don’t get the care they need until it’s too late and things have seriously worsened for them.”
The coronavirus pandemic has understandably made people feel nervous about family members going into homes as there has been a lot of negative publicity about the number of cases reported in homes. However, it’s worth remembering that care homes are now a big focus with access to many resources and services from the NHS and most have implemented strict procedures to keep their residents and staff safe. It could be worth taking virtual tours, watching online videos and meeting staff via videoconferencing before visiting in person, to make sure you are happy they are following PPE requirements and have measures in place for testing residents and staff.
Being a carer
Caring for a dependent can be rewarding and bring you closer together in their later years, whilst also giving you the reassurance that you know how they are being looked after. However, it can also be a hard, draining, experience that puts pressure on the relationship and can be all consuming, especially if you find you don’t have the time, patience or skills to do it properly.
Every year Carers UK (the UK’s only national membership charity for carers) conducts ‘The State of Caring Survey’ which is the UK’s most comprehensive research into the experience of being a carer. Some highlights of the 2019 survey were that over 50% of carers indicated that they weren’t in a position to save for their own retirement because of their caring responsibilities, with over two thirds regularly using their own income or savings to pay for support services or equipment.
Carers UK offer constructive advice in the following areas:
Turning to a professional
If you have discounted the idea of being a carer yourself then it’s time to turn to the experts. Age UK is a good place to explore your options. They suggest that you start by contacting the adult social services department of your local council and ask for a care/needs assessment. You are entitled to this irrespective of your income and location. They produce a care plan and means test assessment to determine how much you need to contribute to the council provided care (where eligible). They will also look at home care and home adaptations before looking at specialist housing or care homes.
‘Which’ provide advice and guidance on the options of home care and care homes and in February this year reported on the issues you need to be aware of if you privately hire someone to carry out care and support in your or their home and the legal responsibilities it brings of being an employer. Alternatively you can look towards tasking an independent care adviser who will assess all of the options for you and propose packages of care, whether it is in your own home or a private care home.
“My mother had been living with us for three years, but slowly over time it was becoming increasingly difficult to manage her care; juggling her needs with running my dental practice and spending time with my family. We felt that we weren’t able to give my mother the support that she needed. I didn’t know the best way forward, so approached an independent care adviser.
“An adviser came to see us in our home and discussed the various options, and although it was becoming a little difficult to talk things through with my mother, we really wanted her to be fully involved in the decision. After much discussion, the best solution seemed to be for my mother to move into a care home. I really didn’t want her to feel I was pushing her into this and it was a relief to see how readily she accepted the suggestion. However, she was still understandably a little anxious, so having the ability to ask an independent expert lots of questions and have a choice of care homes to visit reassured her a lot.
“We visited three recommended homes and my mother liked all the places that we saw, which helped to make a joint decision, as did having the option to stay in one for a week or so to get a feel for the place. Having an independent care adviser really helped us all the way through until my mother had safely moved into her preferred home. The whole experience left us knowing that we had made the right decision, especially as it was really my mother who had made the final decision herself.
“My mother has been living in the care home for over a year now and is extremely happy. We are able to spend quality time with her, knowing that she is safe and well looked after. This has also enabled me to spend more time focusing on my work. I have been able to manage and grow my practice and spend the time I want with my family.”
David Nugent, Managing Director of Grace Consulting (specialists in providing independent care advice and who provided this case study) said “Our business was set up over 30 years ago by our founder when he experienced the same situation that hundreds of people face every day: being overwhelmed by all the issues that arise when considering how to support loved ones who have started to struggle with the consequences of frailty in older age. Organisations like ours help people decide what is the right sort of care for their unique circumstances and help find the most ideal providers of that care, giving advice so that people have the reassurance of knowing they have done the best they can for their loved ones.”
Carers UK used the information from the survey mentioned above to do some extensive lobbying in parliament and in December last year were very positive about a new development that carers may be better supported by receiving an entitlement to taking leave from work, supporting the UK working population who care for dependents.
In economically high and low times the emotional, practical and financial decisions of what to do to care for an elderly dependent will always be hard. But knowing who to turn to, to support you with these difficult decisions, can ease the burden and ensure you are left feeling you have done the best for everyone.
References available on request.
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