The day my mum forgot who I was

The cost of living in a care home can be as much as £600 a week. For thousands of elderly people, that means they must sell their family home to afford it - and the inheritance they hoped to pass on to their children.

The cost of living in a care home can be as much as £600 a week. For thousands of elderly people, that means they must sell their family home to afford it - and the inheritance they hoped to pass on to their children. Features editor TRACEY SPARLING examines how the funding system works.

THOUSANDS of elderly people in Suffolk are being forced to sell their homes to pay for their care. Despite paying tax all their lives, anyone with assets are worth more than £12,750 is today deemed rich enough to pay towards their own care.

While elderly homeowners are having to sell up to pay expensive private care home fees, those who do not have their own houses get the same care for free.

The responsibility for caring for old people falls under the remit of Suffolk County Council which has “a duty to ensure care needs are met”.

When a person no longer feels they can care for themselves, they undergo an assessment by social services to ascertain what their care needs are - and how much money they have got. Eligibility for going into care ranges from when someone's life is being putting at risk by continuing to live in their own home to someone being unable to conduct the majority of family and social roles.

Health problems, neglect, support systems and family links are also taken into account when deciding who needs to go into a care home.

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Anyone with capital of more than £21,000 is considered to be wealthy enough to meet the full cost of their care, which can be up to £600 a week. At this point the value of their home is not taken as “capital”.

For the first 12 weeks after being taken into care a person's home is safe, with only assets and savings being considered towards paying the care home costs. But after that, more often than not the “for sale” boards have to go up.

This can hit some people hard who don't wish to sell their home so soon after going into the care home.

In return for a lifetime of paying taxes and selling their home, elderly people taken into care are given £19.60 a week as a personal allowance, which the county council says is: “to spend as you choose”.

For those with capital of less than £12,750, the county council assumes most of the financial burden.

Graham Newman, councillor with responsibility for adult care and community services, accepts that this can be a very difficult issue, but points out that the law has been the same since 1948, and councils are simply required to carry it out locally.

He said: "This has become more of an issue, as both the cost of care and the value of houses have risen dramatically. As we are living longer into old age and into our eighties and beyond, so it is more likely we will need expensive care at the very end of our lives.”

In about a hundred cases a year in Suffolk, where someone owns a house and can't otherwise pay their care fees, the council has to in effect re-imburse the tax payer from the sale of the house. Graham said: “Where we are funding someone, we don't have any discretion about this, although there is a deferment scheme so that the bill becomes payable when a house is sold, perhaps as part of an inheritance.

“The whole question of how much the tax payer should pay for care, when somebody has significant assets is of course controversial. But this is something I've had direct personal experience of, so I can completely sympathise with people who see the home, their only asset that they have worked hard for all their lives, being swallowed up in care fees.”

Last month the publication of the Wanless Report called for an end to the means-testing system. Its author, Sir Derek Wanless, recommended spending on care for the elderly to treble, a situation he said would lead to “far fewer” people having to sell their homes to pay for care.

He said everybody should be entitled to free personal care at a basic level. On top of that, he said people could make voluntary contributions to their care, with every pound they put in being matched by the Government. He said: “At the moment we have a safety net for poorer people but good social care should be about much more than that.”

His report, called Securing Good Care for Older People, set out a partnership model between the individual and the state, under which the state funds 66 per cent of a package. That 66 per cent would give people free basic care. The report's findings were widely acclaimed.

Gordon Lishman, the director of Age Concern, said: “It is appalling that less money is spent on social care for older people per head then any other adult group, despite the over 65s being the biggest users of health and social services.

“Many older people tell us they are furious that they get nothing from a system they have paid into all their lives. “The publication of this report is a defining moment for social care and it is crucial that the Government does not gloss over the recommendations.”

Joe Harris, general secretary of the National Pensioners Convention, said: “Pensioners welcome the Wanless Report which points in the direction of free long-term and social care without the use of means-testing.

“It is clearly the last nail in the coffin of Government's social care policy. The sheer scandal of the way in which we care for today's elderly population is now well documented.”

The Government acknowledged the fact many older people did not want to lose their homes when they went into care, and therefore developed a deferred payment scheme in 2001. It means they do not have to sell the homes when they go into a care home; instead the bills rack up against the value of their property. The huge fees then have to be paid off either when the person leaves care, or sells their home.

It delays the process, but the end product is the same, because the value of the property has been swallowed up.


Does your family find the cost of care too high? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich IP4 1AN.

Britain's countryside has a growing number of older residents and the balance between age groups is shifting faster than in urban areas.

OLDER people see the system of paying for care as deeply unfair and confusing, according to new research by Age Concern.

Irrespective of age or geography, participants in focus groups wanted the state to provide a core level of free care for all older people who need it - particularly care over which there was no choice, such as washing, dressing and food preparation.

There was also widespread criticism of the complexities and expense of charging for care. Many, including some who were already making a contribution to the cost of their own care, could not understand how care charges were calculated even with a clear explanation.

When one life starts to crumble, it is down to relatives or friends to pick up the pieces. They are stepping into the 'land of care' - can be a bewildering and expensive place. DEREK JAMES reports.

It was the question no son ever wants to hear from his mother: “How's your mum?” For a moment it didn't sink in, then it suddenly dawned on me, the woman who had brought me up had forgotten who I was.

I could see she was starting to get upset, her breathing was becoming more rapid, as she tried to regain control of her mind.

“Tell me something I don't know?” she asked - and that is the question that she keeps repeating over and over again every time we see her.

The problem is, I don't know what she does or doesn't know anymore. She seems to have entered her own world. One that others find difficult to penetrate.

At times it appears that she is fine. She seems happy and contented but her memory is going. It is playing cruel tricks on her. She spends her days sitting in a chair in her room at the private residential home that has now become her home.

One that costs hundreds of pounds every week. One that is costing her, her home.

A few months ago she was, in her 95th year, still a very independent and proud woman living on her own and running her own home.

She never asked for any help. She didn't want it. She was determined to look after herself. And she had never been ill. Then her life began to crumble around her.

Looking back it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when she started to need help but she had been extremely upset and worried after a gas engineer visited her home to service her central heating system.

She later received a letter advising her that she needed a new system. One that could cost thousands of pounds. Money she did not have.

My mother, a widow since 1963, had owned the bungalow she lived in for more than a quarter of a century.

Her savings were meagre and she used to tell me: “At least you will have the property when I have gone and there is a little set aside to pay for my funeral.”

Those savings have been swallowed up in a matter of weeks and the people from Norfolk Social Services are now making sure they get their hands on the money from the sale of her bungalow. Towards the end of last year it became obvious my mother was finding it difficult to cope.

The panic attacks started. Her voice changed. Her walk turned into a shuffle.

She was on the phone night and day pleading for help from her doctor - and her long-suffering neighbour.

My wife and I live more than 20 miles away and we couldn't have coped without this neighbour. She was a tower of strength.

And I couldn't have coped without my wife. I wouldn't have known what to do or where to start.

At the beginning we arranged to meet a social worker at my mum's home and it was agreed that my wife would stock up the fridge with ready meals, then a carer would call twice a day to prepare the meals for her.

She refused other help and although she did eat the food, her condition got worse - and she ended up in hospital.

Once back at home things didn't improve. Some days she would not even get dressed by herself.

There were more meetings with social workers. The days of her being able to look after herself were over.

Just before Christmas it was my wife who collected my mother from her beloved bungalow to take her to a care home.

She would never return.

Since then her physical condition has improved but her memory is getting worse all the time.

“I just can't think anymore. I don't know what is happening to me,” she says.

She is pleased to see us. Most of the time I think she does know who we are but there is never any talk of her returning home.

Her independence is over. She now lives in a world of her own.

And all we can do is try to make the rest of her life as comfortable as possible.