New inquiry has revealed disturbing evidence that the poor treatment of many older people is breaching their human rights.
The inquiry into the home care system in England by Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) reveals that too many are struggling to voice their concerns about their care or be listened to about what kind of support they want.
The report “Close to home: older people and human rights in home care”, says hundreds of thousands of older people lack protection under the Human Rights Act and calls for this legal loophole to be closed. It questions commissioning practices that focus on a rigid list of tasks, rather than what older people actually want, and that give more weight to cost than to an acceptable quality of care.
The inquiry reveals many examples of older people’s human rights being breached, including physical or financial abuse, disregarding their privacy and dignity, failing to support them with eating or drinking, treating them as if they were invisible, and paying little attention to what they want.
The report shows that ways for older people to complain about their home care are either insufficient or not working effectively. Reasons for their reluctance to make a complaint about their treatment included not wanting to get their care workers into trouble, fearing repercussions such as a worse standard of care or no care at all and preferring to make do rather than make a fuss.
The inquiry also reveals the pervasive social isolation and loneliness experienced by many older people confined to their homes who lack support to get out and take part in community life. Yet evidence from the home care industry indicates that social activities are some of the first support services to be withdrawn when local authorities cut back their spending on care services.
Alarmingly, one in three local authorities had already cut back on home care spending and a further one in five planned to do so within the next year.
The low rates that some local authorities pay for home care raises serious concerns about the pay and conditions of workers, including payment of the minimum wage. The low pay and status of care workers does not match the level of responsibility or the skills they need to provide quality home care. A high turnover of staff as a result of these factors has a negative impact on the quality of care given to older people.
The inquiry found age discrimination was a significant barrier to older people getting home care. It found that people over the age of 65 are getting less money towards their care than younger people with similar care needs, and are offered a more limited range of services in comparison. It also found that local authority phone contact lines can screen out older people needing home care without passing them on for a full assessment – which is unlawful.
In response to the findings of its inquiry, the Commission says that legislation and regulation needs to be updated to reflect huge shifts in how care is provided.
It recommends proper protection of old people, effective monitoring of care services and clear guidance and robust guidance on human rights.
Sally Greengross, Commissioner for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: “It is essential that care services respect people’s basic human rights. This is not about burdensome red tape; it is about protecting people from the kind of dehumanising treatment we have uncovered. The emphasis is on saving pennies rather than providing a service which will meet the very real needs of our grandparents, our parents, and eventually all of us.”