Who should look after the elderly – family or state?

On 26th March 2013 I appeared on an afternoon music and talk show on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire. The subject was ‘ Who should look after the elderly – family or the State?’ Gloria Culyer from AgeUK Cambridgeshire also took part in the discussion.

The question stemmed from a caller who informed the show’s host that he had retired several years previously to look after his aged mother who was very ill and, at the time, had been given a short time to live.After several years he was till looking after her. He stated that he had no problem with that as she was his mother but he would be interested in the question of care being answered.

This is a very complicated question and an expert in the care of the elderly joined in the show from a studio in London. The original caller was also on line.

Comparisons with the past were brought up especially with the fact that, in many cases, the youngest daughter in a family did not get married and stayed with her parents to look after them in later life. Life was very different at that time, which is actually not so very long ago. There was less social mobility with families usually staying in the same area, village or even road. This meant that there was no need to worry about care of the elderly as members of the family were always present. Another factor was that, in most areas, there was more of a community sprit with neighbours and friends always being on hand.

These days there is a lot more mobility with families being split up by moving all over the surface of the world for work or for other reasons. Families also tend to be smaller and none of the children would welcome the fact that they would stay with their parents as carers. The movement of people throughout UK and elsewhere has also diminished the community spirit in many areas. In other cases the rise of commuter towns and areas has meant that, in those areas, many residents only use their residences to sleep and spend most of their time outside their homes. This has also added to the diminishing of the community.

From the discussions and questions it is apparent that there is no one answer which would fit all as every person, family and circumstances are different. This is a question which needs greater scrutiny at a local and national level to enable children to feel satisfied that they can do the best they can for their parents. It is also a discussion which should be held within families sooner rather than later.

John Parker