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Julia Manning: The elderly need love, not rights

Julia Manning is Chief Executive of 2020Health.

Shoddy, pitiful care for the elderly and failing care homes are back in the papers today, being flagged up by a team of Telegraph journos (Emily Gosden, Tim Ross, Martin Beckford and Richard Alleyne). It's understandable that the challenges that this neglect and inadequate care raises are put in terms of 'human rights'. However, listening to the coverage this morning I found myself wondering about whether we have the correct narrative.

It seems to me that if we immediately put the case in terms of 'rights' then we lose the essence of what is going wrong. And the best way I can think of to describe this essence is love. Because an absence or opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. And indifference is at the heart of the problem we now face. Too many of us think that caring for the elderly is someone else's job. Whether it's been a sub-conscious abdication of personal responsibility to the Social Services, a weak-willed acceptance of State-dependency or deliberate elder neglect the causes, or even the causes of the causes, need urgent exposure.

And the debate cannot be immature or socialist, because we simply cannot afford a return to the State 'production, distribution and exchange' Clause IV centrist mentality that Blair so rightly rejected, but some health leaders seem to think is the answer. We need the articulation of a moral responsibility, based on strong families and communities, on Benjamin Franklin's thirteen virtues, on absolute principles and a society in which not only neglect by fathers is a shame, but neglect by friends and neighbours is as well.

You cannot legislate for love. But government can support the institutions and role models that promote and inculcate and inspire. During my time as a home-visiting optician I saw the best and worst of home 'care'. There are neighbours and friends out there who are earthly angels, giving selflessly to the elderly next door and who do so not out of obligation, but out of what I can only describe as love. They'd probably be embarrassed by that description, but that is what it is.  It certainly isn't a response to their neighbour's human rights. We cannot now be in ignorance of the fear in which too many elderly people live. As ever, there needs to be a personal, community and political response to this scandal, but let's start by talking about that incredible uniquely powerful human quality of love, and we might actually improve things.  


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