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No solution to the long-term care problem has yet emerged. But something can be done in the short-term for some of the most vulnerable people in Britain

By Paul Goodman
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Two of the most vulnerable groups in society are those at the extremities of life - the unborn and the very elderly - and there's an accumulation of stories about them, and other people who are at risk, in today's papers.  The Times (£) leads on the crisis gripping Britain's biggest provider of care homes -

"Southern Cross Healthcare, which runs 750 care homes, is cutting rental payments by a third in a stand-off with its landlords. The financial crisis leaves the 31,000 residents facing an anxious wait to learn whether the business will go bust, if the landlords will seize back the homes or if the company’s survival plan can work, amid fears that standards of care will decline. Local authorities are watching anxiously as they have a legal obligation to step in and provide care for any elderly people left stranded by a crash in the private sector."

The Daily Telegraph, in the meanwhile, has seen a letter saying to the three party leaders warning that the system of care for the elderly is at breaking point -

"The letter was signed by an alliance of organisations spanning the private and state sectors. Signatories included the leaders of Bupa Care Services, the Local Government Association, Age UK, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, as well as social workers' and carers' representatives.

The care bill for elderly and disabled adults in England will reach an estimated £24 billion a year by 2026. A Continued on government commission, chaired by Andrew Dilnot, the economist and broadcaster, is drawing up plans for the future funding of the social care system in England and will make recommendations to ministers in July."

It also carries a story saying that the terminally ill "should write down how they want to die", while the Guardian has another round letter lobbying Ministers, this time about the pace of benefit cuts.

The younger or at least fitter elderly are a powerful lobby.  For proof, look at the way in which the Government has linked pensions to earnings, and avoided means-testing such universal benefits as free bus passes and the Winter Fuel Allowance.  But no political party has yet cracked the problem of how long-term care, many of whose recipients are extremely frail, should be paid for: the last Government's attempt to do so ended in the row about death tax posters.

But there is something that Ministers can do in the short-term for some of the most vulnerable people in society.  The Telegraph reports that four people have been arrested before yesterday's Panorama, which showed disgusting scenes of the bullying of adults with autism and learning disabilities.  Managers didn't respond to complaints.  Nor did the Care Quality Commission.  The watchdogs plainly aren't biting.  They need a shake-up - or better still, since accountability tends to get results, be taken under local control.


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