Who will help them?
With many elderly folk being unable to fund a decent level of care, what duty, if any, does the church have to its retired members?
October was the conference season, but behind the politicising there was one crucial question on which all three main political parties agreed — the need to care for Britain’s ageing population.
In August, the Office for National Statistics reported that while Britons can expect to spend more than 80 per cent of their lives in robust general health from birth, this figure falls to around 57 per cent at age 65, and thereafter deteriorates rapidly.
Concurrently, the Department of Work and Pensions calculated that 500,000 people each year will be receiving a centenary telegram from the monarchy by 2066.
With more people living longer in poor health, it is clear the state cannot afford to give a high quality of life to people needing long-term care. That’s why many people have chosen private care. But, in this recessionary environment, that too has become an impossible financial burden for many elderly and their relatives — if they have relatives.
Last year, Christian financial adviser Philippa Gee, founder of Shropshire-based Philippa Gee Wealth Management, set up a specialist division to provide advice on care fees funding. She said, ‘Care homes in our area are charging at least £1000 a week. You can understand why people want to talk about it’.
Not only is care for the elderly becoming too expensive, but cutback after cutback has created a situation in which many state-run homes have been found to treat their residents inadequately or badly.
Last year, research into 100 NHS care homes by the Care Quality Commission discovered only 45 of them were treating older people with dignity and respect, and giving them food and drink that met their needs. Some 35 places needed ‘improvement’; eleven were not meeting one of the two standards; and nine were not meeting either.
Small wonder many of Britain’s elderly face a choice between affordability and dignity. This should not be so.
From whence then does their help come if not from state coffers or their own savings? Last year, the Government asked academic Andrew Dilnot to come up with proposals to reform long-term care-funding.
Thankfully, the Government has recently announced that it will support the principles laid out by the Dilnot Commission and has pledged a £35,000 cap on care costs.
It is comforting to know that there are Christians in positions of authority who are committed to a fair deal for the elderly.
Mr Dilnot told the 2012 Keswick Convention, ‘Everyone in society has a moral obligation to take care of the elderly, even if it doesn’t have any economic benefits’.
His argument is that Christians should respect the aged in accordance with biblical principles. Yet how often do our churches segregate young and old into separate home groups? And, while Christians reach out to mothers, visitors and children, do they reach out to the elderly?
Speaking to Evangelical Times, Louise Morse, spokesperson for Pilgrim Homes, said, ‘The care of the elderly is becoming a major issue, and it’s being ignored. Society pushes away things it doesn’t want to see. It shouldn’t be like this among Christians. The Bible has strong things to say about how we should regard the elderly’.
Roger Hitchings, trustee of the Pilgrims’ Friend Society, explores the biblical principles on page 5, but should we not follow the Lord’s pattern, who vowed in Isaiah 46:4: ‘Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you’?
One thing we can do is visit and show love to the lonely. Louise Morse said, ‘Home managers tell me faithful folk receive no visits once they come into a care home.
‘Yet I once saw a visitor holding the hand of a lady with dementia, gently repeating the Scriptures. The visitor wasn’t a relative, but told me the lady was a member of her church’.
Churches can do much to help. One church in Birmingham is setting up support groups for their dementia caregivers. Church families can ‘take in’ to their spiritual concern those who no longer have any relatives left, showing them hospitality and support.
Church members can become friends of the Pilgrims’ Friend Society, offering prayer and financial help.
Dr Peter Saunders, chief executive of the Christian Medical Fellowship, told ET: ‘Sacrificial care for vulnerable elderly people is a key Christian responsibility and part of the apostolic exhortation to fulfil the law of Christ by bearing one another’s burdens.
‘How we care for our older brothers and sisters speaks volumes about the kind of church and society that we are, and is fundamental to effective Christian witness’.