LET us be honest: care homes for the elderly are far from glamorous. Perhaps that is why there has been so little public fuss about their ever more desperate financial problems.

But rising standards and a higher minimum wage have meant that many care homes in the voluntary sector can no longer cover their costs. Charities are shutting down homes: 760 were closed in 2000 alone.

In these worrying times, one donor is helping the charities less and less, and that is the Government. The findings of a survey by the Liberal Democrats, published today, speak for themselves.

The 14 charities questioned spent £11.8 million last year on residents’ “top-up” fees, money which normally should be provided by the Government. That represented a 20 per cent increase on the amount by which they bailed out the state the previous year, which was itself eight per cent more than the year before.

And so, as the sector struggles to survive, the Government expects it to cope with an ever greater shortfall in funding.

Perhaps the most disturbing claim the report makes is of a “conspiracy of silence” among care homes. While the charities are forced to dig into their own pockets to make up for the Government’s deficiencies, they cannot draw attention to the scandal for fear that the public will stop giving altogether.

The Government is effectively relying on the silence of the very homes it is crippling. Yet if it really wanted do something about the crisis in the NHS, it might care to re-examine its care home strategy.

When thousands of beds are being lost every year in care homes, it does not take a genius to point out that there will be more patients unnecessarily taking up beds in hospital wards. But this is not a Government noted for its long-term approach.

By making it clear that any increase in voluntary contributions for the elderly will be matched by a withdrawal of state funds, the state has destroyed the incentive to give.

From the Government’s perspective, the elderly, the frail and the dying are merely the population sector least likely to complain about low standards of treatment. They deserve better.

(article nearly 20 years old…and no change)

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