I read the piece in Sunday’s Observer (“elderly put at risk as sheltered homes are forced to axe their resident wardens”) and, while feeling a great deal of sympathy for Joan Garbet the retired nurse who has had her resident warden taken away from the sheltered housing complex where she lives, I was depressed to see, once again, politicians taking the opportunity to score a few brownie points for appearing to support the elderly, without seriously getting to grips with the reality of the situation.
Even Joan Bakewell, the old peoples Czar has got involved “this is putting the elderly at risk and creates a continuing sense of unease in their lives. We want wardens restored” she said. Well yes Joan but who is going to pay for this? Joan Garbet’s landlords is Circle 33 Housing Trust, a major “not for profit” Housing Association, which relies, to some degree on government grants to fund the accommodation it provides. Why is it cutting services? Because it is being squeezed by decreasing amounts of housing subsidy and ever rising expectations from its tenants.
So it is interesting to see that this issue seems to have cross party support. Geoffrey Cox, the Conservative MP for Torridge and West Devon is very righteously saying that “when parliament comes back from its summer recess, I shall request an urgent debate” on the other side of the house Andrew Dinsmore, the Labour MP for Hendon is similarly supportive but I wonder if either of them have had a conversation with George Osborne or Alistair Darling who will need to pay the bill for all this?
The reality is that it is not economic to provide a resident warden for small schemes of this kind. The best way of allowing people to live with dignity in their own homes while providing care and support at affordable cost, is to develop more retirement villages and larger communities where care and support of the highest quality can be delivered affordably. In order to operate and provide catering and domiciliary care services economically a development needs to have at least 100 residents and there are some private sector operators, including ourselves, who are developing excellent facilities like this, without any government subsidy.
The number of retirement villages in the UK has risen from a slack handful 20 years ago to more than 100 and there are many such schemes on the drawing board. Oddly, the only people preventing further development of this kind are civil servants – planners and care commissioners who regard this kind of innovation with deep suspicion. The best way for our politicians to help people like Joan would be to shake up thinking and policy in Whitehall!