Abuse of elderly inevitable outcome of privatisation

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A major study by the Equality and Human Rights Commission into the quality of home care for the elderly in England has thrown the spotlight again on what privatisation means for the most vulnerable sections of society.

The interim report of this just-published study is damning on the care delivered to such an extent that it says that the human rights of many older people are being ‘abused’.

Typical of the report’s findings are incidents where the elderly are left in soiled beds or clothing for long periods, not being washed properly and not being given help in eating or drinking by the home care staff.

What emerges from this report is that such abuses of the elderly are not isolated incidents caused by rogue or callous care workers, but the inevitable outcome of the privatisation of the care system and the creation of a huge industry seeking to make profit at any cost.

In the 1990s under the then Tory government local councils were given incentives to outsource home care and residential care to private companies, a policy that was vigorously pursued by the Labour government as well.

The result of this privatisation orgy is that today 90 per cent of residential care homes are run by private companies, the majority being ‘for profit’ organisations.

In the field of home care provision it opened the way for councils to entrust home care provision to any number of smaller companies out to make a quick profit.

The way in which profit can be maximised, of course, is to pay the lowest wages possible to the workforce and to impose on them impossible targets for the number of elderly people they are required to visit in a day.

Whereas under local council provision care workers were required to undergo training and vetting as to suitability for a demanding job, these private companies are under no such obligation and very few, if any, carry out even basic training or vetting.

The result is entirely predictable – a huge turnover in staff and the elderly receiving only a fraction of the care they are entitled to.

The report contains instances that highlight this grotesque state of affairs.

One woman reported that she had 32 different carers over a two-week period.

Home visits (that should be a minimum of half an hour and usually one hour) reduced to just 15 minutes leaving no time for the person to be both fed and clothed or even helped out of bed and washed.

This situation is not new; the standard of home care plummeted when privatisation was pushed through nearly 20 years ago. What is new is that the drive by the coalition to savagely cut back on public expenditure, and the slashing of council finances, means that for private companies to make any profit at all they are driven to even deeper cost-cutting measures, creating conditions for the elderly that are absolutely intolerable and degrading.

Nowhere has what cost-cutting means been more clearly demonstrated than in the case of Southern Cross, the country’s largest provider of residential care, that is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and closure and is prepared to throw thousands of elderly people out onto the streets now it can no longer make a profit out of them.

What is crystal clear from this report, and the collapse of private care homes, is that capitalism today cannot sustain and provide for even the most basic of human requirements for life.

Only by bringing down this rotten, barbaric capitalist system and going forward to socialism, where production is for human need not profit, can society advance.