The elderly are always in the news. The main theme being, there are too many of them. They are the main users of NHS services, affectionately known as “bed-blockers”. The are single occupiers of large family-sized homes and refuse to down-size.
But never mind, the government has a solution for the “problem”. Liverpool Care Pathway, that some patients were put on without their consent and without informing relatives. That freed a few beds. Ambulance waits of an hour or more when the caller was elderly sometimes removed the need for a hospital bed altogether. And to make this ” service” more efficient, ambulances no longer necessarily carry trained medical personnel, just in case an over-keen medic might save someone’s life.
Of course, there was one facility that enabled elderly occupying houses too big for them to down size, and helped unblock beds by there being a place for someone recovering from a hospital stay to have someone on hand to help. Sheltered housing.
Sheltered Housing is an eminently sensible, practical and cost-effective facility for elderly and disabled people. By grouping people with similar needs together in a cluster of flats, the services that they sometimes need can be organised more easily and in a time-efficient and cost-effective manner. All they need is an on-site Warden, to deter predators and be on hand in the case of a fall or medical emergency. But in the last decade there has been a trend to remove Wardens, if the tenants were lucky, replaced by a phone number in the case of emergency.
The government talking about our chronic housing shortage, which the government is responsible for creating, likes to be-moan the fact that in our large elderly population (implicit criticism for living too long), are many elderly living in houses too big for them, which could be freed up if they down-sized. And then takes away a major incentive for down-sizing by taking the shelter out of the sheltered housing. If the small flat the elderly move to does not have an on-site Warden, then most people see no reason to move. They feel safer in their own home. Elderly people in hospital with no-one to keep an eye on them when they are released, have to remain in hospital.
The immediate effects of removing Wardens were predictable. Tenants died as a result of falls or a health crisis, and there was no-one on site to notice and help. Elderly people are vulnerable to predators. What an invitation to criminals – a whole group of vulnerable people on one site and no-one to watch out for them. Crimes against residents became common.
As elderly people increasingly stopped opting for Wardenless “sheltered” housing, Housing Associations filled the vacancies with other categories of homeless tenant – at once removing the community aspect of the housing for the remaining elderly, often resulting in harassment and hazard from other tenants, and undermining any chance of elderly tenants collective action to get Wardens restored.
Taking Wardens away effectively abolishes Sheltered Housing. The well-off elderly will just have to remain in their big homes. The elderly in hospitals will just have to remain there. And the poor elderly are abandoned to fend for themselves.
It is hard to see how removing Wardens have saved money. However, if the intention was to hasten deaths in the elderly age-group, that objective has been achieved. Also a valuable community resource for the elderly population has been removed, increasing elderly peoples isolation, marginalisation and vulnerability. Perhaps these were the intentions all along.