New analysis by Age UK has found that, on average, 79 older people died every day in England in 2021/22 while waiting for care.
Age UK is now urging the Chancellor to use the Spring Budget to direct more Government resources towards reducing care support delays after analysis shows that a total of 28,890 older people died in 2021/22, the latest year for which figures are available, without ever receiving the care and support they were waiting for. This equates to 79 deaths a day, 554 a week, and 2,408 a month.
The Charity says that this is just the most glaring example of the long waits that increasingly characterise how some unfortunate older people experience our social care system in England. Age UK pins the blame for these long delays squarely on a lack of public money to allow local authorities to assess older people speedily, and on there being insufficient care workers to staff the care services a growing older population requires.
The number of unfilled posts in the home care sector jumped by 20,000 between 2020/21 and 2021/22, while Skills for Care reported a vacancy rate of 14% across the whole of England, rising in some areas to over 17%.
Today, argues Age UK, the social care system remains under extreme pressure and – if anything – the situation seems to be getting worse. A growing ageing population means that the demand for social care is rising, and health and care experts also say that older people are now often presenting with more significant needs, following the experience of living through the pandemic.
Age UK analysis shows that in England, more than one in four (28%) people who had asked for a social care assessment had been waiting six months or more to get one. These assessments are just the first step in securing social care, suggesting that some older people in desperate need are waiting even longer before they actually receive support. For some, it clearly arrives too late.
Delayed assessments have helped to precipitate a situation in which an estimated 2.6 million people in England aged over 50 are now living with some unmet need for care. That means millions struggling to do ordinary things like going to the toilet, eating, dressing or washing because they require some help to do so. In the absence of a formal service being available families and unpaid carers often have to do their best to fill the gap, placing them under huge pressure and strain. The Charity says it is especially worried about older people living alone, who do not always have friends or family who can rally round.
The Association of Directors of Social Services surveyed its members in 2022 and found that more than six in 10 councils said they were having to prioritise assessments and respond to people only where abuse or neglect was highlighted, or when they were being discharged from hospital.
In the last decade, the demand for care has increased as the population has grown and, statistically, got older: there are now 2.1 million more older people and 857,000 more adults with disabilities than ten years ago. The provision of care has not kept pace: during the first three months of 2022, for example, almost 170,000 hours a week of home care could not be delivered because of a shortage of care workers, seven times more than in Spring 2021.
“Waiting endlessly for help”
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK said: “There isn’t enough social care to go round and so some older people are waiting endlessly for help they badly need. It is heart breaking that on the latest figures, more than than five hundred older people a week are going to their graves without ever receiving the care and support to which they were entitled.
“These long waits are causing huge distress to older people as they struggle to carry on living their lives, and placing intolerable pressure on their families. And what happens to those with no one to step in and help? At Age UK we are deeply concerned about the plight of all the older people with an unmet need for care, living alone, without any family or friends. We fear there are many tragedies playing out silently behind closed doors.
“Good social care, provided by kind and skilled staff, can transform older people’s quality of life, helping them to stay fit and well and giving them morale boosting companionship too. It’s incredibly sad that it is becoming more and more routine to have to wait for months to receive care, even when you have been found eligible for it. That’s why we and more than 30,000 others have written to the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, urging him to use his Budget to help alleviate these delays, by directing more resources towards social care.
“No older person should die waiting for care that could have made their final days more comfortable and better supported, and no family should have to watch their loved one going through that bitter experience either. The Chancellor can help change this situation for the better and we call on him to act.”
More information on Age UK’s social care campaign here: https://www.ageuk.org.uk/our-impact/campaigning/care-in-crisis/