The Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu warns today that “the nation’s humanity is at stake" unless the elderly are protected from Government cuts.
He writes: “This year, and for many years to come, the demands on the national purse will be huge. We are in debt. We cannot go on spending as though there is no tomorrow.
"Stringent savings are needed, but must be applied with caution and compassion. Only the most callous would want defenceless elderly men and women to suffer as a result.
“We all know there are going to be cuts in Government expenditure. We dare not cut compassion. Our nation’s humanity is at stake.”
The Archbishop’s “wisdom and moral authority” in his latest comments, his strongest to date on the topic, have been welcomed by the leading charity for older people.
Michelle Mitchell, Age UK’s Charity Director, said: “Many clergy going into parishioners’ homes bear witness to the appalling crisis in social care.
“Hundreds of thousands of older people are being let down and many are left frightened, isolated and vulnerable without sufficient care to meet their needs.
“This crisis in care is denying people their basic human need for dignity and support in old age.
“We urge the Government to have the courage to succeed in creating a system of social care that is truly fit for purpose and sustainable for future generations.”
The Archbishop’s intervention comes at a critical time in the debate over social care.
A Government-commissioned report by the economist Andrew Dilnot, published last summer, provided a fairer way for the system to be funded.
It would see the costs of residential care or home help capped at £35,000 and a substantial increase in the means-tested threshold that forces many older people to sell their houses, while new insurance products would protect many people from significant outlays.
But ministers balked at the cost of introducing the reforms at a time of austerity, and last month hinted that they may be delayed until 2025.
However there is now renewed optimism about the prospects for cross-party talks – which were scuppered before the election over Tory claims of a Labour “death tax” – and the Coalition is committed to publishing a White Paper in April alongside a “progress report” on funding proposals.
Last week an unprecedented alliance of 60 advisers, experts and charities called for “political leadership” on the topic in a letter to this newspaper.
They highlighted recent scandals involving poor nursing and warned that elderly people are suffering “terrible abuse and neglect” while informal carers are being “pushed to breaking point”.
The Care Services Minister, Paul Burstow, said: “The Archbishop is right there can be no short-cuts on compassion and dignity for the elderly. That is why we are we are putting quality at the heart of both our NHS and social care reforms. It is also why we are putting an extra £7.2bn for social care over four years.
“We understand the worry people have about paying for care and want to help people plan and prepare for their care needs. But it’s still the case that most people don’t know that social care is not free and never has been. That is why we set up the Dilnot Commission and will set out our plans in a white paper and progress report this spring."
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