The charity AgeUK is one of the nation’s largest suppliers of support to older people. In an article for International Women’s Day, Aidan Baker looked at the AgeUK document Breaking point, published in 2019, and the 2021 social care White Paper People at the heart of care.
Breaking point expressed severe dissatisfaction at government delays in the promised creation of social care policy. After the article appeared, Aidan spoke with Melanie Wicklen, CEO of AgeUK Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, about the charity’s response to the White Paper.
AB: What would you say is the most welcome thing in the White Paper for Age UK?
MW: “The fact that it looks to provide a joined-up system that is clearer. That has to be a good thing.”
AB: Are there any things in the White Paper that AgeUK wishes were different?
MW: “It needs more about preventative measures. The health care sector is very poorly resourced. We’re doing so much with volunteers. The only way that will change is if we make caring a better career prospect. At the moment it’s considered a gutter kind of career. But where would we be without carers?
“The end users of our services are the ones who suffer the most. Some end users, having had to go to hospital, need a social care package in order to go home. Those who are not self-funding often have to stay in hospital for longer, as social care packages to fit their needs aren’t available.
“If you can fund a care package yourself, that can help, but you can only get practical help through organisations like ours. And only if you know that you need the help, what kind of help, and what kind of help is available.
“In the longer term, preventative measures – supporting people as they live in their own homes – have much the most positive impact.”
“The White Paper needs to acknowledge more clearly the role that non-paid carers play – the family members, the friends, the neighbours, the people who don’t consider themselves to be carers. The relief that they are giving to the whole system in playing that part. They need to be supported.”
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AB: Age UK and some of its branches are credited with engaging with the government in the preparation of the White Paper. How was that experienced by those who took part?
MW: “We’re independent charities and we were represented as a network of brand partners. And Caroline Abrahams sat at a couple of party conferences as well to discuss it. It’s been great – it’s given her a platform to actually express the concerns. I heard a discussion on it on Radio Five live at 11pm one night.”
AB: How would you describe the main focus of the work of AgeUK?
MW: “Our focus is very much on being proactive in supporting people in a preventative way, helping people have the best form of wellness they can with the condition they have. We work with lots of other organisations in the voluntary sector and community sector who actually provide the care. It’s about ensuring that each person has the right service, not necessarily always delivered by us.”
AB: What do you think of the £86,000 cap on care spending?
MW: “Someone with £100,000 in the bank isn’t going to have a lot of change out of it, but someone with a couple of million is still going to have to pay just £86,000. AgeUK is lobbying for a more tiered system. Is money being used as people would want to use it? And at the same point, is it fair that somebody with very little money, which they’ve worked equally hard for, should lose everything? Things need to be made more equitable right across the system.”
More preventive measures, more recognition of unpaid carers, more tiering… it’s hard to miss the sense of disappointment at the White Paper. Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director of AgeUK, likened People at the heart of care to an under-powered saloon car struggling to fill the place of a Formula One vehicle. The charity’s work includes some campaigning, as much as a charity can. The scope for campaigns isn’t likely to disappear any time soon.
Note: Aidan Baker is a volunteer with Age UK Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.