Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, 210,000 people over the age of 65 – one in seven of those receiving care before the pandemic – have seen a reduction in the care they have received, according to new Age UK estimates.
Of the 13% (1.4 million)[i] of the population in England aged over 65 who were receiving care before the pandemic began:
- 8% are receiving less care (112,000 people)
- 7% are no longer receiving any care (98,000 people)
- i.e. a total of 15% (one in seven) of those who had been receiving care have seen a reduction in the care they received (210,000 people).
This worrying finding needs to be considered against a context in which out of the 2.7 million people aged 65+ in England who said they had care needs, a million (38%) said these needs were not always being met.
Age UK has also recently carried out polling[ii] on how the pandemic is impacting on older people who need help with the ‘activities of daily living’ – one of the principal ways in which the need for social care is judged. This found:
- 33% of older people who were already struggling to get up and down the stairs say this is now much more difficult or more difficult
- 39% who already found it hard to walk short distances outside say this is much more difficult/ more difficult
- 40% of people who already found it difficult to shower, wash, or have a bath say this is now much more difficult/ more difficult
- 43% of people who already found it hard to clean/ tidy their house say this is now more difficult/ much more difficult.
It seems that as medical experts predicted would occur, being shut away at home for long periods during this health emergency is leaving significant numbers of older people with reduced mobility and experiencing what clinicians call ‘deconditioning’ – a loss of physical capacity due to muscle weakness, as well as joint pain. Ordinary activities, such as going upstairs or washing, have therefore become difficult, and previously independent older people have become reliant on walking aids to move short distances, which they used to manage with ease.
The Charity says that among older people there is a strong relationship between having significant long term health problems, like heart disease and diabetes, and developing a need for care. Not only have these older people with long-term health conditions had reduced access to their usual health care during the pandemic, their coping methods, such as physical exercise, support groups, or even day-to-day routines, have been disrupted. On top of this, the stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic has often had a knock-on effect on their health.
The Charity says that when you put these findings together they show that the need for social care is certain to be increasing during the pandemic but, worryingly, that fewer older people are actually receiving the help they need, compared to before.
If older people have to struggle without adequate social care support this undermines their resilience and makes them more susceptible to falls, and to illnesses. This in turn is likely to increase pressure on the NHS, at a time when it already under immense stress because of the pandemic.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said:
“Unfortunately, our new findings show these key trends in social care are going in the wrong direction: our older population’s need for care will be increasing due to this health emergency, but one in seven older people have told us that they are actually receiving less help than they did before the pandemic began.
“Without the support they need there’s a very real risk of older people experiencing falls they might otherwise have avoided, and of generally becoming more susceptible to illnesses of all kinds. If you step back and look at health and care in the round it’s obvious that investment in social care pays dividends for the NHS as well – and as they battle COVID-19 our health services clearly need all the help they can get.
“The fact is that social care was in no position to withstand the battering it has received from COVID-19 and, despite everyone’s best efforts, the system is struggling to respond. Social care was grossly underfunded before the pandemic and the Government’s emergency injection of funds helped but was simply not enough. As a result, social care staff and the services they deliver are being stretched appallingly thin and, as ever, older and disabled people, and their families, are being left to pay the price.
“The Government keeps saying it is committed to ‘fixing social care’ but every day it seems they announce new money for one highly deserving initiative or another – and care always misses out. After the tens of thousands of deaths in care homes during the first wave it’s only right that this vital public service gets the financial support it requires. If not now, when?
“As an institution the Treasury has the reputation for turning a deaf ear to any and every call to put more money into social care, but this Spending Review is Chancellor Sunak’s opportunity to show he is bigger and better than that. We are calling on him to invest several extra billion into social care right now, and to give us all hope that later this year, the Government really will issue a funded plan for transforming social care for the better, once and for all.”
[i] [i] ‘Age UK analysis of English Longitudinal Study of Ageing Covid-19 Substudy data, which were collected in June & July 2020, scaled up to the age 65+ population of England using ONS mid-year population estimates for 2019’
[ii] Research Express provides quick, reliable market research. Research Express is part of Kantar UK Ltd. The survey was conducted on the Research Express Online Omnibus amongst 1364 UK adults aged 60+ from 20th August – 3rd September 2020..