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Joan Bakewell investigates the 'burden' of care for the elderly

26th July 2010

A specially authored Panorama airs tonight on BBC One. Dame Joan Bakewell, who recently stepped down as the government's Voice of Older People, will examine the challenges that lie ahead in caring for our ageing population. With the first wave of baby boomers about to turn 65, the question of who should be asked to pay for that care could not be more timely. As Dame Joan, points out, amid talk from successive governments about tackling the problem, the old keep on getting older.

Most older people worry what will happen when they get frail - and we will all get there at some point, so this is an issue for everyone. Nearly 70% of men and some 85% of women over the age of 65 will be needing care at some time. What comes as a shock is that most people will not be entitled to any free care when they need it, only the very poor will be entitled to care paid for by the state.

The distinction is that you can be frail without being ill. Illness means that all people are entitled to be treated free of charge by the NHS, however the care that people need as they get older, help with washing, dressing, eating etc, is not a right granted to people as they age.

In tonight’s Panorama programme, Dame Joan travels around the country investigating the options – how shall we pay for those last years of dependency and weakness?

Dame Joan visited the county of Dorset – an area with the highest proportion of old people in the UK. She met a woman who was being forced to sell the family home to pay for residential care for her elderly mother with encroaching dementia.

It’s a contentious issue, whilst no one wants this family to have to sell their home, it is also hard to expect to burden the tax payer with paying for that care when some of the people requiring care are sitting on considerable assets.

It’s not all doom and gloom however, in Birmingham, ambitious schemes for retirement villages aim to offer a cheery environment and 24 hour care for residents. Joan discovered that there are many different ways of growing old and those that are the most successful need some forethought and planning.

Chris and Olive Quinn sold their home in Edgbaston and moved into the newly opened New Oscott Village, a Birmingham City Council-backed enterprise run by the Extracare Charitable Trust. On site there is a gym, restaurant, shops and 24 hour medical care. Chris and Olive were enthusiastic and had genuine affection for their life together and their new home.

All the experts Dame Joan met - from the King's Fund health care think tank to Age UK to the people running Dorset County Council - agree the matter is of the utmost urgency. She is concerned that the sense of urgency has been fudged in recent years with rival pre-election claims and counter claims from different political directions. All the while, the old are getting older and nothing is being put in place to deal with the cost of paying for their care.

Andrew Lansley, the health commissioner announced last week that a commission would report on the options in a year’s time.  When you need care now or are faced by a difficult decision such as selling your house to pay for a loved one’s care – a year is a very long time to wait. Someone will have to decide soon.

Panorama: The Generation Game, BBC One, Monday, 26 July at 20.30

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