Leading article: The elderly and vulnerable must be protected at all costs

Care homes are not ordinary businesses that can safely be allowed to go bust

Related Topics

The signs point to a care crisis. BBC's Panorama this week exposed the horrendous abuse of people with learning difficulties at Winterbourne View, a private care home in Bristol. Meanwhile, Southern Cross, which runs 750 elderly care homes, has lurched deeper into financial turmoil. Southern Cross has told its landlords that, unless it is permitted to reduce its rent payments, insolvency looms. Should the landlords refuse to do a deal, tens of thousands of frail elderly people could face homelessness.

Some will draw the conclusion from these two tales that the use of private companies to provide care for the old and vulnerable has been a terrible mistake and that the state should take control of these essential services. But the assumption that state care homes are the answer is a dangerous one.

Abuses of disabled people in the government-run institutions of the past were common. Indeed rampant mistreatment of residents was one of the reasons those places were closed. Private homes, which tend to be smaller, are often better environments for the disabled than the vast state warehouses of old. And the same is true of private care homes for the elderly. The general quality of the remaining state homes is no better than private ones.

Moreover, there is not the money for the re-nationalisation of these services, even if that was desirable. As we report today, councils are reducing their funding for private care home places savagely, as they pass on the cuts handed down to them from the centre.

So what is the way out of this crisis? First there needs to be some official recognition that care homes are not ordinary businesses which can be allowed to go bust, or left alone to run their affairs. Care homes are too socially important to fail. No government can allow hundreds of elderly people to be put out on to the street because their private care home has gone out of business. It would have to step in and take over the institution. If it comes to it, that will be the fate of Southern Cross.

And that implicit state backstop means private care homes need to be subject to tighter financial regulation so they do not get into the sort of trouble in which Southern Cross finds itself. There also needs to be stricter state supervision of private care homes to make sure that the kind of appalling treatment inflicted on the residents of Winterbourne View is not repeated. It is disgraceful that the Care Quality Commission was alerted to the abuse at that institution by a whistleblower at the same time as the BBC, but failed to do anything about it. And lax supervision seems to be a systemic problem. Too many elderly care homes have been permitted to get away with cutting costs in recent years by economising on care for residents.

All this should be a reality check for those in the Government who assume that greater private-sector involvement in the provision of public services is a panacea. Private firms undoubtedly have a role to play in providing competition and choice for families and patients. But ultimately it is the state that must guarantee the quality of care.

Yet the care funding crisis is the hardest challenge. Here there are no simple answers. Extracting more from the general taxpayer is inevitable, yet it can only be part of the solution. Some way needs to be found to monetise the assets of the wealthy elderly (in particular their property assets) to fund their care in old age. The problem is that tapping wealth in this manner can have the undesirable effect of discouraging saving.

The Coalition has tasked a commission, chaired by the economist Andrew Dilnot, with drawing up plans to solve the problem. It is due to report next month. Of one thing we can be sure: whatever the Dilnot commission produces will be the start of the debate about funding care for the vulnerable, not the end.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Read Next
'Our media are suffering a new experience: not fear of being called anti-Semitic'  

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk
David Cameron (pictured) can't steal back my party's vote that easily, says Nigel Farage  

Cameron’s benefits pledge is designed to lure back Ukip voters. He’ll have to try harder

Nigel Farage
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In my grandfather's First World War footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during the war. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end