Forum Member, Annie Stevenson
The purpose of this paper is to explore the link between age discrimination and the injustices that have taken place in our care homes during the COVID-19 pandemic in this country. It seeks to show how destructive age discrimination is to those who live in our care homes and attempts to shake up our attitudes to older people, as the pandemic continues. It is hoped that shifts in attitude would lead to a societal revolution in care and support for older people as the pandemic shows us how the current system is breaking down.
This is a personal insight into the plight of the care home sector during the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK. The writer has worked in the field of social care and older people’s services for many years and felt compelled to share her learning and observations. This led to venturing more deeply into understanding why those who live, work and visit care homes have been so neglected and “cast into the shadows” in the face of such desperate danger. Whilst tracking the media narrative during the first wave, she attempts to apply her knowledge, in particular gained from working for Help the Aged (now Age UK) as a policy manager for Quality Care, but also draws on experiences as a social worker, commissioner and care provider from the 1980’s to the present. By “shining a light” on care homes, revealing that the darker practices that have taken place contravene the Human Rights Act 1998, it is hoped that the recognition of age discrimination will happen at every level and become better known in its application. The paper observes how deeply rooted it is in us all.
Having highlighted some shocking examples of bad practice from the authorities relating to care homes, the article concludes that Government policy on care homes from March to July 2020 was discriminatory and questions how far lessons have been learned. The legislation is in place in the form of the Human Rights Act 1998 to protect older people in care homes but is not being widely implemented at regional policy level. Government rhetoric remains far from reality Instead of redressing the gap and admitting mistakes, there is evidence at a high level of continued denial and the projection of blame on to the care homes themselves.
The author’s professional background includes meeting the founder of the Gray Panthers, Maggie Kuhn, in the United States in the 1988. This was a defining moment that gave her an original insight into age discrimination and influenced her entire career. It eventually led to her working in national policy for one of the most influential charities for older people at the turn of the millennium, Help the Aged. Here, she co-founded the My Home Life Programme (promoting quality of life in care homes). The paper offers a unique insight into why it is so challenging to achieve quality of life for older people needing care and should be of interest to policymakers, clinical commissioning groups, local authorities, older people’s care providers and carer and user organisations.