Shifting the burden of care

By Georgia Snyder 12 Aug 2014

‘About three quarters of us will need some care as we get older, but while about half of us can expect to pay out about £20,000, 1 in 10 people will spend over £100,000. There is no way to predict in advance which of us that will be.’ We are an aging nation, burdened by the post war baby boom, with a population pyramid that is becoming critically top-heavy. Predictions are that 2017 will be the year that the number of elderly people needing care in England will ‘outstrip’ the number of family members available to look after them. IPPR estimates that by 2030 there will be more than two million people over 65 years of age with no child living nearby to give any necessary care. So how is our nation responding?

Naturally, we look to the government to solve the problem – or at least come up with a temporary fix. As of April 2015 there will be an increase in the amount of money an elderly patient will ever have to spend on care. Councils will be given stricter guidelines to ensure that the limited funding available is reaching those most in need. None of us want to see taxes increase; yet all of us want the security of guaranteed care when we’re older. Without increasing taxes, the government will struggle to boost the funding available. Therefore, they have tried to create a system that better distributes the funds across the most severe cases. So, is government’s solution to the lack of funding satisfactory?

Care reforms

We live in a generation in which public opinion of our political leaders is probably at an all-time low, with little distinction between our attitudes towards governmental representatives and other celebrities whose flaws are quick to be plastered across the media. The recent news of the reforms to the adult social care system, capping the amount of money people in England spend on their social care at £72,000, is yet another reminder of the chasm that appears to be growing between the public and those ‘in power’. Something isn’t working. The structure of our society seems to have dissolved into a tiresome game of Chinese Whispers with corrupted communication, resulting in a rusting relational focus.

What light does the Bible shed on this?  God’s vision was for the Israelites to organise themselves into a multi-layered (but non-hierarchal) system, where responsibility of care was passed to larger social units where the underlying ones were unable to provide it. Their system simplifies down to family first, then wider community (e.g. through the gleaning laws), then the state (tithes). Nowadays this is often reversed. There is an initial expectation for the state to provide a national system that tends to our personal needs, and then localities try to fill in the gaps. Unfortunately, family is often the last resort and is increasingly objectified as the problem instead of being the healing hub for relationships. The biblical structure of society, as displayed by the Israelite nation, thrived due to the complimentary roles of the varying layers, preventing the state from gaining power over areas that were better dealt with at a more localised level. Perhaps our own response to concerns about future elderly care should be first dealt with by the family, then the wider community and then beyond that the government can create a national context which supports family structures and ensures everyone has equal opportunities to receive care.

Family first

If family comes first, then we should all be thinking about how we can prepare to support those older than us in the future. Imagine if our finances, where we choose to live, and the ways and places we invest our time, were all orientated around our family relationships. That includes our extended family. Think about your future now. To what extent are your plans preparing you for a future as a carer for your parents or another relative? Will your house be a suitable care home? Will your job have flexible working hours? Is the prospect of elderly care factored into the way you secure your future finances? If family can’t provide sufficient care, how about your local community? How much do you invest in your wider community to provide care for others? Are you already devoting time to strengthening relationships within your current community, understanding that one day you may need the support of others around you? If you have elderly neighbours who don’t seem to have any family around them, how could you step up to support them? Providing lifts to the shops, asking if you can do a food shop for them, helping out with housework and cooking, going round for a cup of tea to provide some company and a listening ear…

One example from the US is the ‘Home Instead’ initiative, which provides senior care by matching clients to a carer with similar interests, recognising the importance of meaningful relationships. They encourage strong community bonds, training up local volunteers as well as professional carers. Whilst this is an example of private care, which isn’t accessible to everyone, imagine how we could ease the strain on the current elderly care system by asking our local care homes how we can provide any voluntary help. That could be committing to being a regular trained volunteer, or going once a month to help with shopping trips. Whatever you are able to do to invest in others, putting relationships first and re-focusing back on family and community could certainly bring some sunshine to the current future of senior care. For we know that in Christ we have been adopted into God’s family – we have experienced being vulnerable and then being welcomed into a family network that is our core source of love and support. Our response in gratitude of this should naturally be extending the grace that we have received from God to others, especially to those who are vulnerable.

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