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Older people.

I experienced a modern modern day problem yesterday which I think we, as a society, really need to think about pretty urgently.

I am someone who has one of those pendant alarm buttons which are issued to older and disabled people so we can call for help should we fall or have an urgent medical issue, where we need medical assistance when we are on our own if fall and injure ourselves or become ill and need rescuing.

And, most of the time, this is a good plan, just as long as it all works smoothly. But, and it’s a big but, these alarm buttons rely on us having a working landline connection and, unfortunately, that is not always the case as I have now discovered.

Briefly, I live in South East London and get my telephone and Internet service provided through Sky, which is usually fine. However, yesterday evening we had a massive power outage thanks to some rats which eat through some fibre optic cables somewhere, knocking out both the phone and the Internet for thousands of us across the entire area. No phone, no Internet, nothing. Silence. Very annoying for most people anyway but, for those of us who have alarm call buttons for emergencies, this meant we were unable to use them to call for help, should we need it, from around 11pm last night until about 10.30/11am this morning.

Twelve whole hours when anything could have happened.

In my case, this issue was compounded by the fact that my mobile had run out of battery and needed charging but that’s my fault and it’s now connected to my charger, doing it’s thing but there must have been other people who don’t have mobiles at all who experienced the same outage as me. So what were they supposed to do?

Only this week I learnt about someone in one of my Facebook groups who, having knocked over a bottle of bleach onto the floor, fell out of her wheelchair and ended up lying in the resultant corrosive puddle for several hours before she was rescued, who now is in hospital with serious chemical burns on her arm and chest. Thirty five years ago my own grandmother, who was in her eighties at the time, died in hospital following a fall in her kitchen when she broke her hip and lay injured on the floor for many hours before being found. Sure, had either Grandma or the Facebook wheelchair user had an alarm button they should have been able to call for help, but only if the system was working.

Which, last night, it wasn’t.  

I’m lucky, usually my daughter is here as she lives with me and last night, because she’s away, a friend stopped over for the night so there was someone I could have yelled to if I needed them but, what would I have done had I fallen out of bed, been unable to use my alarm button and my friend had not been here? Lain on the floor, all night, alone, cold, possibly seriously injured with a broken arm, leg or hip until my carers came for their morning visit and found me.

It’s the stuff of nightmares and doesn’t bear thinking about.

So, my question is, are we too reliant these days on the pseudo safetynet of technology and, if we are, what can we do about it? Is there a solution? Perhaps Local Authorities should have an emergency team who are on call, in the event of a techno failure, to go round to everyone who has an alarm button to make sure they are ok. Possibly, but probably impractical and certainly expensive. Maybe those of us who are issued with an alarm call pendant, which we have to pay for, should also be issued with an emergency mobile phone that the button is also linked too so that, in the event that the landline goes down, the button links to the mobile service provider instead. More practicle but also expensive but it has to be better than than having no backup plan whatsoever

I don’t know what the solution is but somebody could have ended up seriously ill, injured or even dead thanks to yesterday’s power outage. We need to think fast and we need to think of something now before it’s too late.    

So, yet again we have a Tory Minister saying something REALLY stupid and angering another group of people from amongst their core supporters. It makes you wonder if they are trying to make the other Parties lives easier for them. Do they care about the people who voted for them? These days it’s looking more and more as if they don’t.

So, who has been saying what and about whom on this occasion?

Who is being ridiculous this time?

Well, it’s an MP called Guy Opperman, talking about women and pensions.

He seems to think that older women, who are being disadvantaged by changes to the age that State pensions start being paid, could mitigate their financial loses by taking up Apprenticeship opportunities instead.

What foolishness is this? Do some of these Ministers just open their mouths and let the words fall out without thinking about what they’re saying first? It certainly seems to be what’s happening.

Just to explain the situation to people who may not know what I’m rabbiting on about this time, changes are being made to British Pension regulations which are designed to equalise when men and women become entitled to their State Pension. It used to be that women received their Pension from the age of 60 whilst men had to wait until they were 65. And this is what’s changing. The State pension age for women is being raised to 65 so that it’s the same for both genders. And there is no real argument about the fairness of this idea. In my opinion it should be the same for both genders. But there is an issue with how it is being implemented.

A group called WASPI (Women Against State Pension Inequality) argues that for women born in the 1950s having no transitional arrangement is unfair and wrong. These women’s pension arrangements and retirement plans and options are being changed without any thought as to how their plans are being changed. Their issue is with the unfair way the changes were implemented – with little or no personal notice (1995/2011 Pension Acts), faster than promised (2011 Pension Act), and with no time to make alternative plans. Retirement plans have been shattered with devastating consequences.​ And, Mr Opperman seems to think that women who are being affected adversely by these changes could take up apprenticeships to cover any financial losses they may experience.

I have two things to say about this idea – it’s unfair and it’s unworkable.

It’s unfair because these women have always been told and have believed that they will get to retire, on a full pension, when they are 60 and they have planned for this throughout their working lives. Surely a fairer way to do things would be to have a transitional period? And it’s also unfair on the young people, for whom apprenticeships were originally envisaged, to have these opportunities potentially taken from them by older women. It does not seem right.

But, the unworkable thing is what concerns me more. Exactly how many employers are going to want to take on an apprentice who is scheduled to retire either during or shortly after completing that programme? How many employers are going to want to spend any money whatsoever on training people up who will be leaving almost immediately? And how will women being paid at the pay rate for apprentices help anyway? Has Mr Opperman ever looked at how much money  people would get? Currently, apprentices over 19 and in their first year get £3.50 per hour. £140 for a 40 hour week. Once tax and NI is taken out, how would that mitigate ANYONE’S loses?

I think three things need to happen and need to happen fast. Firstly some sort of transitional arrangement needs to be put in place for the WASPI women. The rug should not be pulled out from under them without something sensible being sorted out. Secondly, and as a byproduct of this discussion,, the Government really does need to look at the rate of pay for all apprentices. £3.50 p/h is little more than save labour. Granted, apprentices need to be trained and, certainly initially, may not be as valuable to the workforce for any business, but wouldn’t a graduated pay scale be better? £3.50 or something similar to start with when a new apprentice starts and learns the basics but, once they have been around for a while, surely they are making money for their employer through the work they do? Surely someone who is halfway through should get some financial recognition for the work they are doing? Employers are earning profits from apprentices and the apprentices are earning peanut. It does not seem right. And thirdly, Government Ministers need to learn to think first before they speak so as not to come up with stupid pronouncements that upset some members of the electorate and serve no useful purpose but to make them appear to be ill informed and cruel. Think first, speak later really should be a maxim all politicians need to remember and consider at all times and should be point one on any briefing paper or induction pack they get when they enter the House for the first time.

Think first, speak later – you know it makes sense.

I think I’m supposed to be grateful.

I think all of us disabled, and older people are supposed to say ‘Thank you’ to the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, for his much flaunted, much hyped boost of £2bn for Social Care in yesterday’s Spring Budget.

Well then.

Here goes…

Thank you Mr Hammond, you are so beneficent and generous.

Sure, £2bn is an awful lot of money, and, with any luck it, at least some of should help ease the Care Crisis we currently have in this country, but it can only help if it actually filters down to the people it’s supposed to be helping. My major concern is that it will be shared out amongst all the Social Services Departments, nationwide, and will just vanish into their usual, annual Social Care black hole. We, the older and disabled people who are the ones who are supposed to reap the benefit will probably get to see little, if any, of it at all.

As someone who is in receipt of Social Care, there I three places I can think of straight off where that £2bn could make a real difference if it was spent properly.

First of all, I would like to see the money being put towards ending the farce of the fifteen minute care-call. How can anyone in their right mind think that fifteen minutes is long enough to provide any form of meaningful care for a disabled or older person? It’s barely long enough to make a sandwich or boil a kettle for a cup of tea, let alone help a frail person access the toilet, get them dressed or undressed, make sure they’re comfortable and safe, cook a light meal and help them eat it, if they need help, make a bed and do a little light housework.

Some of Mr Hammond’s £2bn definitely needs to go towards this.

Secondly, the paltry amount Home Care workers get paid needs to be addressed.

When I was in receipt of Agency Care, via my Local Authority, the workers were receiving little more than the minimum wage, indeed, in some instances it seemed as if they were even getting less than that. I now get my care through a scheme called ‘Direct Payments’ whereby my Local Authority pays the amount they would have spent on Agency Care directly to me and I get to employ and pay for my own carers. In theory, this is a great plan and, for many, it works well but it is impossible to offer a decent wage for the work that needs to be done and therefore, get the most suitable carers. The amount I get, for example, allows me to offer an hourly rate of just £9.40, before tax and NI, hardly a fortune, especially when you consider the level of personal care I am expecting those workers to undertake.  I would dearly like to be able to offer more but, as someone with no private income whatsoever to fall back on apart from my Welfare Benefits, I am stuck with just the funding my Social Services Department allows me every month for my long-suffering and excellent carers. Hardly enough at all.

Some of Mr Hammond’s £2bn needs to go towards this.

Then thirdly, there’s something which doesn’t affect me personally as yet. The amount that is available for both short, and long-term, residential Care Home accommodation. How can we expect older and disabled people to receive good quality, dedicated care when they need intesive care or can no longer live in their own home, if the amount Residential Homes are given for each resident’s care package is so small? We can’t

Some of Mr Hammond’s £2bn needs to go towards this.

What I really want to see most after yesterday’s display of Governmental generosity would be a completely new Care Strategy for our country. There needs to be meaningful consultation with the Care providers, the medical profession and carers themselves, both Home Care and Care Home agencies and workers and the Care Recipients, namely all the older and disabled people who need help to live in comfort and with dignity. We need to be assured that any extra or new funding is being spent wisely and well and is contributing towards the wellbeing of those who need it most.  

Some of Mr Hammond’s £2bn definitely needs to go towards this.

What an eventful political week.

Who could have predicted the momentous turn of events we have just witnessed only one, short month ago. Not me, for one. Saying goodbye to David Cameron and his team and hello to Theresa May and her’s is going to change so many things, long-term, for us all.

But, what do I as a disabled person, want to see delivered by the new regime?

Well, for a kick off I want to see an end to all Welfare Benefits sanctions, in particular sanctions which mean that disabled people are left without sufficient money to pay for food and medication and rent and energy costs and transport costs. I would like to see proper Welfare Benefits for disabled people where we didn’t have to continually justify our existence or prove how ill we are at every turn. Applying for Disability Benefits and attending never-ending face-to-face assessments or tribunals is soul-destroying, mentally traumatic and largely unnecessary. I want to see an end to people being punished for the crime of being too sick to work and being awarded benefit levels that allow us to actually live not just subsist. Just because we are either born or become too ill to earn our own livings does not mean we should always be put at the bottom of the heap or made to feel as if we are a burden on our families and society through no fault of our own.

I would like to see physically disabled people being able to access proper equipment based on what we want not what the government deem us as needing. The cheapest option is not always the best option in the long term. Giving us the bare minimum could be counterproductive. Spending a bit more to help us now may well mean less needs to be spent in the long term because our medical conditions might not deteriorate as fast, if at all because we are not having to struggle all the time for everything. There needs to be better provision of proper Mental health care and access to inpatient and outpatient treatment for as long as it needed, not a one size fits all system. Everyone is different and this needs to be recognised. There should also be mandatory mental health first aid training for anyone working with young or vulnerable people and for both physically and mentally disabled people, proper support for the NHS. I would like to see more funding made available for medical research which may lead to a better understanding of disabling conditions, better treatments and possible cures.

Another important consideration for many disabled people is care. I would like to see more money put into support for family carers, support for young carers. There should be mandatory respite care, for all disabled people of at least two weeks, annually allowing both disabled people and their carers a break where they can relax, safe in the knowledge that needs will be met. I would like to see this combined with increased level of social care. I would like to see family carers paid a living wage rather than just receiving the paucity which is Carer’s Allowance. I would like to see proper recognition of the value of family carers and how much money they save the nation. I would also like to see a proper rate of pay for all social carers. Without them and without family carers many more disabled people would need residential care or hospitalisation at a far greater cost to Social Services and NHS budgets.

And then there is transport and transportation costs. I would like to see a version of Taxicard available nationwide. I would like to see more investment in a fully accessible transport network. I would like to see much wider provision of wheelchair accessible transport such as Dial-a-Ride services and wheelchair accessible mini-cabs. Blue badges need to be universal for hospital carparks. There should be free parking or a refund of reasonable travel costs for relatives of people who are long-term in patients in hospitals.

These are only my initial thoughts and things that affect me personally the most but there are so many other things I feel that our new Prime Minister and her Cabinet should tackle that could benefit the lives of disabled and older people nationwide. Education, Transport, Access to Justice, Employment, the list is never ending.

Am I hopeful that we will see any of this?

Frankly, no.

Last week I had one of my regular long chats with my wonderful father and, as it often does, what he said got me thinking. Why don’t more older and disabled people know about all the things they are entitled to from the State and that they deserve to receive? How many lives could be improved and made easier if people just knew what’s out there to help them? Welfare benefits, home helps, aids and appliances, it’s all there and available but people often don’t know about it or don’t realise it applies to them and their own particular circumstances.

My father and my Step-Mother are a case in point. They are now in their 80s and their health is not as good as it once was. They both have trouble walking any distance due to disablin medical conditions and in doing all the things they used to delight in. They have had to slow down and do less than they used to. But, with the right help and support, they can still do what they want, when they want to do it. They can go on leading the happy, enjoyable, fulfilled lives they always have done and, more importantly, be able to continue to do so for many years to come.  

A couple of years ago I realised that neither of them knew about one of the main Welfare Benefits they were entitled to and, in my opinion, should have been receiving for several years, namely Attendance Allowance. No-one had ever told them about it, let alone mentioned it, even in passing. Attendance Allowance is a payment made to older people who need a little bit of extra help due to the restrictions placed on them, not only because of their age but also if they have any disabling medical conditions as well. They can, of course, use the money how they want but most people use it to pay for some kind of home care or for aids and adaptations within their homes to make life easier. It’s not a huge amount but it’s regular and it can help. I told my father and Step-mother about this benefit, they both applied and were awarded it. And what a difference it has made for them. My father has been able to buy himself a motorised scooter which has given him the freedom and independence to go out and do what he wants in the small seaside town where he lives. My Step-mother has been able to pay for a cleaner to come in once a fortnight to deal with the more awkward elements of housework that needed doing and that she was no longer able to tackle as easily as she once was. As far as I am concerned, this is exactly what the benefit is for, to give two older people who have worked hard all their lives the freedom and ability to remain in their own home rather than having to consider selling the house they love and have lived in for so many years and moving into sheltered accommodation or a care home.

But why did it take me to tell them about it? If it wasn’t for the fact that I have worked for charities for older and disabled people, giving advice and information on benefits, for many years they might never have found out what they could get. Why didn’t someone else such as their GP or their medical specialists give them the information. People find out about the help they may be able to get despite the system and not because of it.

Today I have seen reports about £12bn in unclaimed benefits. I wonder why. Could it be because people don’t know or understand what they are entitled to? There must be a way of ensuring that more people find out what there is out there for them and giving them the help they may need with applying for those things. Maybe, instead of having work coaches and employment advisers in doctor’s surgeries it would be better and more efficient to have benefits advisers there instead. Professionals who could help patients understand what they could get and, more importantly in my view, assist with the complicated application process. After all, if people were in receipt of the all the help they are entitled to then they may not need to visit their doctor so often and could stay out of hospitals and needing expensive and invasive social care help for longer. It might cost a little more to do this but there would be savings down the line in other areas as a result. Consider the picture as a whole and not the individual elements in isolation. Give people an easy understanding of what they are entitled to, help them apply and get rid of the hurdles stopping people from getting it. It makes sense in the long term.