The number of people aged 65 and over in the UK is predicted to increase by 81% from 9.3 million in 2000 to 16.8 million in 2051. Many will ask: what is the point in growing old in New Labour's Britain? State pensions are at subsistence level and people were told in November that they will eventually have to work until 68 before they can claim it. Energy bills have gone through the roof and many older people can’t afford to heat their homes. Now comes news that if you become infirm and need support, you are almost certain to have to pay for care – if it’s available. The Commission for Social Care Inspection says that older people in much of England can anticipate no help from the state until their needs are judged "critical". As for people without family or friends able or willing to help them, or without the means to buy in care, are already being left to cope as best they can. In a report this week, the charity Counsel and Care said older people faced a "care lottery". Access to care depended on where older people live and their income; it depended on their local authority and its policies on charging and eligibility criteria. "Put simply, the number of older people is growing while the number getting care services is falling and the care gap is widening." As population ages, more older people are encouraged to remain independent in their own home rather than move into residential care. But as the number of care home places has fallen, so too has the number of older people receiving home care services. A national survey of local authorities revealed that it is almost impossible for older people to access support in the community, unless their needs are severe.
According to the Local Government Association, help currently provided to up to 370,000 people with assessed lower-level needs will disappear altogether by 2009. The survey also shows that there are high charges for services in some areas – with weekly charges of up to £315.90, and average hourly charges for services of £10.39. "The contradiction in care is that while older people are paying higher charges, fewer are getting services. Pressure on budgets means that fewer older people are eligible to receive support, leaving many struggling to meet what may be low level needs, but which can have a great impact on their quality of life," says the charity. All this is evidence how New Labour and the Tories before them have overwhelmed the welfare state, transforming it into a market state dominated by corporate needs. The real scandal is that a state that can afford to wage war in Iraq and Afghanistan, is going to spend an estimated £25 billion on new Trident nuclear missiles, allows millionaires and transnational corporations to register offshore to avoid tax, spends £8 billion a year buying drugs from the pharmaceutical companies at rip-off prices, gives the rail companies £5 billion a year to help drive people into cars through exorbitant fares, will not fund proper pensions and care for older people. A state that cannot and will not protect the needs of the people as they get older but will advance business and financial interests come what may, is both a partisan and a failed state. Its replacement with democratic alternatives is a matter of priority.
Paul Feldman, communications editor