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Daycare cuts hit 20,000 pensioners: Warning that elderly could be left isolated and lonely as councils reduce spending on social care
Councils reduced spending on social care by 500million since 2010Number of elderly receiving daycare reduced by almost a quarter since 2009
Age UK says 'crisis' in social care is making people lead 'isolated existence'
00:01 GMT, 28 December 2012
Tens of thousands of frail older people risk being left lonely and isolated as a result of cuts to daycare facilities, a charity has discovered.
Recently-released official figures show that the number of older people receiving such care from their council has plummetted by almost a quarter in the past two years alone.
Day care includes support for vulnerable pensioners including lunch clubs, foot care, gentle exercise and social activities such as bingo.
Without these activities, many older people receive no social interaction. In many cases, a visit to a day centre provides the only cooked meal a pensioner has a day.
Cuts: The number of elderly people receiving daycare from their councils has fallen by nearly a quarter since 2009
The figures show that more than 20,000 fewer pensioners are now receiving care provided by or arranged by their local authority than before the last election, according to the Department of Health statistics.
Age UK, which uncovered the figures, said it was a ‘worrying’ sign of how town hall cuts are affecting the most vulnerable in our society.
Day care services are also important because they can allow family carers to enjoy a much needed break.
The charity said the cuts will leave elderly people at risk of loneliness and isolation. And, with little support to spot problems early, they could be left with growing health needs as they get older.
The statistics show that over the past two years, the number of older people in England who receive council day care services has fallen by 23 per cent – from 88,498 in 2009/10 to 68,160 in 2011/12.
The cuts will either leave people without day care at all, or could leave them having to pay for them out of their own savings or their pensions.
Michelle Mitchell, Age UK’s charity director general, said: ‘This reduction in the number of older people who can depend on day care services arranged by the local authority is extremely worrying for a range of reasons.
‘We know that these services are really important to many older people but the brutal reality for older people with high care needs is that all too often there is not enough funding to allow for anything more than meeting the basics of their personal care.
Falling:Since 2010, councils have reduced spending on social care for the elderly by 500 million in real terms
‘The crisis in social care is leading to vulnerable older people having no choice other than to lead an isolated existence. Social care funding pressures and tightening eligibility criteria mean that thousands of older people are facing an end to their social life, and the prospect of living out their last years in loneliness.’
She added: ‘Any decent society needs to protect its most vulnerable and we are deeply worried that these figures indicate that many more older people and their carers are being forced into coping alone.
‘We urge the Government to recognise and act on the current underfunding of social care and commit to a sustainable and affordable new system of paying for care and support in old age.’
Age UK said the downturn in the use of day care centres is part of a general trend which has seen across-the-board reductions in social care and support provision by local authorities.
There has also been a tightening in the amount of support provided to those older people who need services.
Analysis by the charity has shown that funding for frontline services has not been adequately protected from cuts.
Between 2010/11 and 2011/12, councils reduced their spending on older people’s social care by 500million in real terms.
Suffering: 20,000 fewer pensioners are benefiting from lunch clubs serving hot meals, gentle exercise classes and social activities such as bingo, Age UK claims
In an attempt to save money, town halls have made it harder to qualify for social care support. In the vast majority of councils, only the most disabled and frail older people now receive any help with social care.
Approximately 80 per cent of local authorities only provide social care support to those judged to have ‘substantial’ or ‘critical’ care needs.
This means that older people with lesser but still serious needs do not get any state funded support.
Age UK said that the evidence shows that demand for day centre places by older people continues to be high, but that many people feel unable to afford to pay the additional cost of a day centre place after they have met their essential care needs.
Local branches said they are seeing day care facilities whittled down as funding reduces and those who are able to access them restricted to only the most disabled and frail.
Julia Hines, chairwoman of Age UK Barnet said that while her local authority has not cut back day care services as fast as others, funding has been reduced and many more people have been asked to pay for using the services.
In Barnet, in north London, the cost to attend a local authority day care centre is around 34 and users would also have to pay for their own transport meaning that the cost could easily rise to around 50 a day – just under half a week’s basic state pension and beyond the reach of many older people.
Ms Hines said: ‘It is vitally important that people are able to escape the four walls of their own home, and that they have a place to go, not just to meet other people, but to meet their particular friends.
Our clients have described our day centres as having a club-like feel, or being like a family.
'It is hard for anyone to admit that they are lonely. It is humiliating. Older people tend to avoid that word and have talked to us about the importance of “keeping busy” or that they are “lucky” because they have a daughter, or supportive neighbours.
‘Being busy is not the same thing, in my mind, as having friends, and if you can count your friends on the fingers of one hand, I am not sure that most of us would count ourselves lucky. Our clients have the opportunity to make and sustain real friendships.’
She added: ‘Day centres also often provide the only cooked meal of the day for clients as well as opportunities to join exercise classes or activities like art classes, bingo, or bridge.
‘I am very proud of the work our day centres have done, and incredibly grateful to the staff and volunteers who make this possible.’