Your views: Who should be responsible for caring for the elderly?

May 25, 2012, 11:49 AM GMT+0

How will we care for an ageing population? With the ONS' most recent estimates projecting that the number of people of state pension age will rise from 12.2 million to 15.6 million by 2035, this is one of the hardest questions we face in Britain today.

In Labs, we invited you to voice your perspective on who you thought should be responsible for elderly care in the UK, and why. Should people lean on the National Health Service for support, or their family?

The most common view expressed in Labs was that the NHS should take on the biggest responsibility, reasoning that it has the expertise and the funding to care for the vulnerable – especially as, they observed, the decline of the traditional family often leaves the elderly with no personal support.

But others, sharing their views, argued that families should take on most of the responsibility instead. Their logic being that grown-up children have an in-built obligation to their parents for raising them, and family members were therefore more likely to provide a more personal, comforting standard of care.

Within this debate however, many participants noted that while family members should take responsibility as much as possible, for elderly individuals with no close family, or complex medical problems, the state should provide them with a safety net.

When it comes to caring for the elderly, who should be responsible, and why?

Add your voice to the discussion below.

Q: Who should have the greatest responsibility for looking after the elderly?

1. The NHS should be responsible

Comments from those who thought the NHS should be responsible for caring for elderly people followed these three lines of argument:

  • Taxes should pay for care - many participants thought that care should be provided for the elderly who have paid into the tax system their whole life. Surely, if NHS care is available for the ill, social care should be provided for the vulnerable elderly?
  • These days, it can be increasingly difficult for families to provide care for their elderly relatives - whether due to extended families, stretched resources or moving apart for work.
  • The best way to provide responsible, consistent care must be through the NHS - they have the skilled staff and resources to care for the elderly. They also felt that there would be more of a level playing field, if all care was provided by the public sector.

Click on the headings below to read the range of views expressed...

Argument 1: We pay taxes to ensure we’re cared for in old age

People who have contributed into the tax system over the course of their whole lives have a right to expect a good standard of state care when they reach old age” James, Leeds

It was the ‘elderly’ that were at the forefront of the NHS. They have paid their dues and are entitled to all the benefits” Anne, West Sussex

“A large proportion of the elderly have paid into a system which they have rarely, if ever, used. It seems unfair for it to suddenly abandon them because they cost more” Anon

“Throughout their lives people pay their share to society, and most pay in much more than they take out. They are therefore entitled to get something back from society when they need itAnon

“The current system of National Insurance provides for care when you get older, and is paid for during a working lifetime. If the greatest responsibility is to be for the family then reduce NI and let people make their own provisions” John W, Grimsby

“We are forced to pay for it in advance during our working life. The government should not impose a double burden on the younger taxpayers by forcing them to care for their elders and pay tax at the same time” FZ, Retford

A civilised society looks after all its members. People have contributed through taxes when working and it is only proper that the community takes its share” Keith, London

Argument 2: Family can’t always provide care

Some families have broken off contact with elderly relatives due to difficult relationships, or other such reasons, why should they take care of them?” Anon

“With the unhealthy lifestyle of the current younger generation many more parents will survive their children. Couples are choosing not to have children, thereby increasing the future elderly demographic without children to provide support” Anon

“In these days, families are much more spread about the country (even the world) and it is not always feasible for them to help. The NHS is local to everyoneLiz M, Bury St Edmunds

Grown-up children shouldn’t be expected to give up their own lives to be carers unless they want to” H, Nottingham

“Providing this sort of care for loved ones can damage the relationships in the family and place undue burden/stress on individuals willing to do it” Nicola F, Wolverhampton

Families are now not in a position to look after elderly relatives. Both husbands and wives work to maintain their own standards of living and do not have sufficient spare time to care for the elderlyRoger S, Bury St Edmunds

“Older people are very vulnerable and need to be treated equally, and not be at the mercy of family who may not want to care for them” Susan Munro, Congleton

Argument 3: NHS care is better and more consistent

State-run establishments have a higher standard and better control of those standards than privately run homes” Dorothy M, Scotland

“[The NHS would] give equitable care for the elderly across demographic considerations. Everyone regardless of their income should be entitled to good careSyrinx F, Stroud

Elderly people need a regular care programme. Not that everyday should be the same but care-wise, medication, feeding and nursing care should be fairly punctual. Families would not be so regimented and the elderly could miss out on medication timesBarbara, Portsmouth

“Care homes should be brought back under public control, which would create greater value and coherenceAnon

“It is the NHS who has the skills to take care of us when we are ill and elderlyRaven C, Bournemouth

“Many elderly people that need care have medical or mental problems; therefore they need nursing care which should be covered by the NHSDenise E, Scarborough

“Private companies are more concerned with profits than the elderly. The state can properly fund without fear of an elderly person who cannot afford careAnon

2. Family members should be responsible

The views from participants who said family members should care for relatives in old age followed three lines of argument:

  • Parents often make huge sacrifices to bring up their children - surely, they queried, looking after them when they are vulnerable should be a basic duty?
  • The NHS might be able to provide skilled nurses, but would it ever be able to care for the elderly as well as their family?
  • Not only can you provide better care for your elderly relatives, but keeping the family close together can create long lasting bonds, reasoned participants, especially if children don’t often get to see their relatives.

Click on the headings to read the range of comments that were made…

Argument 1: Caring for elderly relatives is our duty

“They looked after us when we were young and we should look after them in their later years as they do in lots of other countriesDebbie A, West London

“Mums and dads brought us up. We should look after them when they are older, even if it is just to ensure they get good care in a nursing homeKen D, Fife

“Ties between family members are the strongest and we have a duty to those who gave us life” John, Swanage

“Family members should have responsibility as it is unfair to ask total strangers to pay higher taxes to fund elderly care. If someone’s child or partner was ill we would think it strange if they did not make an effort to look after them” Anon

“They’ve already done their bit bringing up their children to be adults so it's time the children took the responsibility to help look after their parents now” Vall C, Lincolnshire

“Our elderly relatives are best looked after by family as they brought us up. Also it shows we care and respect themAnon

“Caring for people is part of being human; people have become very selfish in thinking that they should not have to change their lifestyle in order to care for elderly relatives” Tom, Sussex

Argument 2: At-home, family care is better

“The elderly can have a personal choice about type of care they receive, what is most suitable for their needs and where or what will make them happy”

“The state can only afford basic (poor) care standards. There is too much reliance on state welfare” Paul, Wales

“I would think most elderly people would prefer to be cared for in the family home where possible” Lindsay, Scotland

“Family knows the elderly person and their likes/dislikes better than anybody else. Why on earth would you want somebody else to take over such a personal act?Maureen F, Macclesfield

Familiar carers in familiar surroundings are more likely to provide a better standard of holistic care” Anon

Only family are able to provide the love, care, protection and affection required by anyone who is vulnerable” Michael J, Swansea

“Because family members care for the individual and understand more deeply the needs of their own elderly and can therefore tailor a more focused level of care for their needs” Tony N, Reading

Argument 3: It deepens the family bond

“It should encourage better bonds between families. Most of Europe take care of their elderly and don’t rely on the state” Anon

The family unit grows and shares together and it is important that the elderly are cared for to maintain the status quo of passing on knowledge” M, Hampshire

“If children had to look after their parents it would encourage better family units and slowly less selfishnessAnon

“It allows extended families to remain in contact which is good for all members of the family” Anon

“There should always be a mix of generations in families as it gives children a better upbringingAnon

In other countries the family look after their elderly and it works. It would also put more money back into the NHS for health care for all” Anon

We should not be reliable on the state for holding our hands for everything; we have become lazy and less caring as a society. We need to look after our own as much as we can” Godfrey, Surrey

When it comes to caring for the elderly, who should be responsible, and why? Add your voice to the discussion below.

Add your voice to the discussion below.

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