Gandhi once famously said that you can judge a country’s greatness by how it treats its animals, a sentiment that us Brits have long taken to heart.
We revel in our undisputed status as a nation which doesn’t just love but, quite literally, obsesses over our four legged friends - yes we still pursue practices which some regard as cruel, but on the whole, animals have a unique place in British life.
Which is more than can be said for our elderly. Put simply, the way we treat our elders is nothing short of a national scandal - and don’t take my word for it.
It is no secret that our care sector has long been woefully neglected but now leading charities Age UK and the Alzheimer’s Society have confirmed what we all know with the service being described as “shameful” and “scandalous”.
The figures speak for themselves: the number of older people not getting help has risen by 50 per cent in the past six years, with 1.2 million vulnerable people over the age of 65 going without care and a quarter of those struggle with three or more tasks such as dressing, washing and using the toilet.
With austerity now in its seventh year, local councils are finding it harder than ever before with only half those 1.3 million people who asked for help receiving it. A BBC study has revealed that 11 local authorities have rejected more than 75 per cent of the applications they received.
Very recent personal experience tells me that the situation really is as dire as the statistics suggest, as I have had cause to become involved in organising improved care for a very elderly relative. It is not an exaggeration to say that the whole process is a minefield and one that tends to move at a snail’s pace.
The council staff in charge of assessing whether or not someone is eligible for care are clearly struggling under the sheer weight of their workload although the ones I have encountered have largely done their very best to help.
The problems don’t end once the care begins, with recipients and their families complaining that home visits can be rushed and, in some cases, old people are given the wrong medication and have been known to be left sitting in dirty clothes for days on end.
Of course all of this is only going to get worse because as a society we are getting older, including those in their seventies who are forced to look after their 90-something parents because of a failing system.
How long before clapped out offspring find themselves in the room next door to mum or dad in their care home? It could be argued that as a society we are wrong to expect the state or charities to assist with the care of our ageing relatives.
In other cultures elders are revered and their care is regarded as a natural duty for younger relatives rather than something to be handed over to a third party. There are a whole host of reasons why families cannot look after mum, dad, granny or grandpa but it is becoming more often the case.
Clearly our new Prime Minister needs to seriously consider the pressure this crisis is having on families but maybe we need to ask ourselves a few searching questions such as do we care about Rover or Tibbles more than we do about Great Auntie Doris?
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