Helen Martin: Charities can’t pick up pieces

Nurse in a care home talking to an elderly woman in a wheelchair. Picture: Esme Allen
Nurse in a care home talking to an elderly woman in a wheelchair. Picture: Esme Allen
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THERE may still be optimists out there who believe the myth that the worst of the recession is over. The reality is that we haven’t hit bottom yet, writes Helen Martin

And nothing could illustrate that better, or more shockingly, than Edinburgh City Council announcing that home care will effectively be rationed for the sick and elderly because the health and social care budget is £16.5 million short. Care will be limited to those with a “substantial” or “critical” level of need.

What’s the critical interpretation of help to dress, undress or wash? How about those who can’t prepare their food or need prompting to take medicines under supervision? Already staff are warning there will be less investment in aids like handrails, bathing aids and stair lifts. While one person may be able to do without a visit meeting an apparently “non-substantial” need, exactly the same visit and help might be crucial to another individual.

The masterplan solution is to have charity and community groups take on more of the care work, groups which are funded by public donations, despite the fact that these services really should be provided from council tax (I say “masterplan” but that may be an exaggeration as the council admits it doesn’t even know how many people will be affected).

And if the financial tide ever turns? Well the principle will have been established and charities and groups will be expected to carry on doing it for nothing. Existing care levels vary from excellent to inadequate, not to mention a regime of box-ticking and supposed compliance – and that’s when people are being paid (albeit too little) to do the job.

Will we really have enough devoted volunteers to plug the gaps, and will they be prepared to go through all the checks and balances, fill in all the paperwork, and be held to account by some inspectorate’s judgement? Chances are they will not be prepared to short-change their vulnerable clients by seeing four or five in an hour, including travelling time. And how can anyone hold a volunteer responsible if something goes wrong?

As anyone who has had an elderly relative in that situation knows, care visits can mean the difference between life and death, let alone between living independently and going into residential care (if the council continues to fund places).

It is really frightening and desperately “third world” to think that we are now depending on charity for care of the elderly and fragile. But with insufficient funds the council will say there is no alternative to cuts.

That is why so many of the public were critical of trams, segregated cycle tracks, pedestrianisation schemes, the expense of Christmas and New Year and all the other frills we didn’t need and couldn’t afford. The public purse is severely limited and stretched by many demands, the most important of which is health and social care – not trams, parties and decking on George Street.

The money for these fripperies had to come from somewhere and it’s always the vulnerable who pay the price. God only knows how this will work as the elderly 
population soars.

It’s not quite oil’s well that ends well yet

Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney has come down hard on unethical (let’s be honest and call it “criminal”) rogue traders, City cowboys and banking executives, calling for longer jail sentences and an end to the financial sector’s “culture of impunity”.

Ofcom has suddenly ended the ludicrous penalties imposed by broadband providers on customers who want to switch because of poor service, and the same goes for mobiles.

It’s like all our Christmases have come at once. But before getting too over-joyed at these simple victories for common sense, we should ask how they were ever allowed to get away with these practices in the first place . . . and when the slumping price of oil is going to be reflected in our utility bills.

Mountain antics highly offensive

We all do stupid things when we’re young but 23 isn’t that young. Eleanor Hawkins, the British backpacker and one of ten who offended Malaysians by stripping off on their sacred mountain, angering the spirits and thus causing a fatal earthquake, seems to have a lot of support here for being just a daft lassie.

They were asked to stop disrobing by a guide but continued. One of them told the guide to go to hell, and allegedly some of them urinated on the sacred mountain, after which one of them put a photo on Facebook saying “it’s just a f****** mountain”.

Aerospace engineering graduate Eleanor deserves no sympathy. Rather than 23, she and her crowd, some in their 30, behaved like teenage yobs. Hopefully her cell time was enough to make her grow up and learn some cultural respect.

Throw them to the wolves

It’s a pity we don’t have punishments to fit the crime in this country, otherwise when we catch the irredeemable scum who stole Squire the lurcher and Jack the terrier pup from Cranstoun boarding kennels, we could have him thrown to the wolves.