Home care scares

This week home care services were under the media microscope with the revelation that delivery costs are rising.  Age Scotland’s Doug Anthoney responded.


New figures showing that spending by Local Authorities on Free Personal and Nursing Care has increased from £133 million in 2003/4 to £347 million in 2011/12 are hardly a surprise; in view of our ageing population, and the drive to sustain older people to remain own homes wherever, and for as long as, possible.   The rising cost of home based Free Personal and Nursing Care needs to be compared to the costs we would incur were older people not supported in this way, with many more spending time unnecessarily in hospital.

With the Scottish Government’s move to integrate health and social care budgets we should, in future, get a better picture of the combined cost of these services.  Our expectation is that this will show that the increase is more manageable, as preventative spending bears fruit.  In the meantime we called for a careful watch on cost increases to ensure pressures on Local Authority budgets don’t result in older people short changed in both the quantity and quality of the services they receive.

We weren’t the only ones concerned about the quality of home care, with UNISION this week publishing the results of a Freedom of Information request showing that 15 minute home care visits were being scheduled in 28 Scottish Local Authority Areas.  We share its concern about standard of service that’s possible in such a time slot, and backed its call for a review to determine whether short duration visits are fit for purpose.  You could arguably heat and serve a meal in fifteen minutes, although the quality of interaction with the client is unlikely to be great.  But when it comes to help with dressing and washing, a rushed visit might even cause anxiety and distress.  Whittling down services to at or below the bare minimum might save Councils in the short run, we said, but will ultimately cost more as where older people aren’t adequately supported in their own homes they are more likely to need residential or hospital care.”

Doug Anthoney is Age Scotland Communication and Campaigns Officer.  This post is part of the ‘Tomorrow’s Fish and Chip paper’ article series reporting the hot topics Age Scotland has been discussing with the media each week, and the Charity’s response.  The column will be taking a two week break and will return on Friday 23 August.

Tomorrow’s fish and chip paper – New bills, old debts

Doug Anthoney offers Age Scotland’s take on this week’s news stories.

man at chiropidist

This week saw publication of a long trailed Bill to join-up, and so improve, health and social care services – the snappily titled Public Bodies (Joint Working) (Scotland) Bill.  We’ve been campaigning for this for quite some time, and have been broadly supportive of the Scottish Government’s proposal; namely to make NHS and Councils work together in delivering health and social care services, with pooled budgets and shared targets and accountability.

So, does it cut the mustard?  A first review (we’ll be trawling it repeatedly over coming weeks) suggests much is as expected, which is pleasing.  But we’re concerned that a watered down duty to merely ‘consult’ the third sector might marginalise the role and influence of the many voluntary groups and social enterprises that play such a crucial role in keeping older people healthy, happy and independent in their homes.  Our call for the Bill to be underpinned by values and human rights also seems to have been ignored.  We’ll be raising these points with Alex Neil, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing, next week.

The week’s other big story was publication of Scottish Widows UK Pensions report which scores Scotland lowest for retirement preparations.  It claims that over a third of Scots (39%) who could and should be preparing financially for their old age are under-saving for retirement, nearly three times the UK average (14%).  Meanwhile, our aspirations for retirement income have increased to £24,500 per year, almost double what the average person retiring at 65 could expect (£11,200).  The research also found that we are entering retirement with an increasing number of credit commitments, including loans, mortgages and credit card debts.

Scottish Widows, while inevitably signposting people to its own services, has highlighted a serious issue, and behind these figures are many people who will be very anxious about their future incomes as they approach retirement.  Things look a little better for future pensioners, with the introduction of a flat rate state pension of £144 per week in 2016, and with automatic enrolment in workplace pensions, but this does nothing for those on the brink of retirement now.

What can be done?  Westminster and Holyrood could, and should, put energy into alleviating poverty among our current pensioners, we said.  Employers can also help their older employees to plan effectively for retirement, as the most enlightened already do.  And individuals can take action to maximise their income; for example by calling the Age Scotland Helpline for a benefits entitlement check, and by making use of the Pensions Tracing Service to see if they have a forgotten historic pension pot.

Doug Anthoney is Age Scotland Communication and Campaigns Officer

Doing the maths on Scotland’s ageing population

This week Age Scotland Chief Executive Brian Sloan joined the debate on the cost of our ageing population.

Brian Sloan

Brian Sloan

I attended a very interesting debate on Wednesday 20th February on the topic of ‘The Cost of our Ageing Society.’ Taking place at the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, it was jointly hosted by The International Longevity Centre-UK (ILC-UK) and the actuarial profession, with sponsorship from Milliman; a large independent actuarial and consulting firm. The majority of the hundred or so attendees were actuaries – experts in risk management who use mathematical skills to help measure the probability and risk of future events.

The cost of ageing on society today is very significant, and many actuary based figures presented showed that Scotland will be particularly affected by this in the future. A recent survey of older people views by Milliman asked ‘What should be used to address the costs of an ageing society?’ The top two responses were first; to encourage phased retirement and part time work, and second; to improve the employability of older people.

Clearly older people still feel they have a great contribution to make in the work place, and are very mindful about all the health and well-being issues that can be addressed by keeping the mind active – not to mention the social interaction being employed brings. This would also help challenge the common perception that older people are a financial burden on the state, as currently the number of working age people is decreasing, whilst in total pensions pay-outs are increasing. Quite a challenge, as currently there are very few initiatives to support people in working longer.

The value of older people in our society was also debated. We heard that a recent WRVS study shows that their UK net contribution to the economy is £40 billion, yet society seems to have a hang up about chronological age. Far better surely to look at the capacity of individuals. As one contributor succinctly put it “see the person – not the age.” There was a universal message from those speaking that there needs to be far more focus on the added value that older people can bring to society.

It was rather distressing, although not surprising, to learn that life expectancy in Scotland is low compared to the rest of the UK, particularly in our areas of deprivation, and that projected health care spending for the Scottish Government is a real and pressing issue. Kenneth Gibson MSP called for more effective collaborative working across all sectors to find solutions.

For me, the debate highlighted that the cost of our ageing society is a challenge that needs to be met now. Amongst a range of potential solutions, I would like to see more encouragement and support for active ageing, as this in turn leads to better quality of life and well-being, less illness and disease, and more sustainable health and social care services.