While the various ‘remain in Europe’ bourgeois parties, groups and celebrities along with their tame media outlets are busy telling all and sundry that we will all starve as our society crashes around our ears if Brexit is finally achieved, a very real plague of malnutrition is walking British streets right now.
That the benefit thieves of the Department of Works and Pensions (DWP) and their private inquisitors are pushing as many disabled and unemployed people of working age and their families to the brink of destitution, hunger and homelessness as they can is well known to our regular readers, but a lesser known crisis within what is left of our welfare system is the treatment, or perhaps lack of treatment would be a better description, of the elderly and those suffering from mental illness. These two groups are often blurred as many elderly people lose mental capabilities with age while those who suffer from mental illnesses are growing older, if they manage to survive in this society, all the time.
The Sunday Telegraph published an article on 18 August 2019 that was not only a timely indictment of the run down of the NHS and welfare provision within Britain, but was, more broadly, through the figures quoted and the questions raised, a scathing indictment of the final imperialist stage of capitalist production, healthcare and morality in general.
In 2017/18, it says, there were 8,537 people admitted to A&E units who were incidentally suffering from various levels of malnutrition (as compared to 2,893 in 2008/9). This displays a staggering 300% increase in adult hospital admissions with a primary or secondary diagnosis of malnutrition in the past decade or so. Most of these people were taken to hospital for some other reason with the malnutrition only discovered while the patient was on a hospital ward.
Given that it takes a fall or some other accident or a severe illness to get these people onto a hospital bed in the first place, we can only guess at how many people at large in Britain today are seriously undernourished. Victims range from missing two or three meals a week to barely getting by on a diet of cream crackers or something similar in extreme cases.
Local authority welfare care services are in meltdown and statistics from the NHS reveal that in 2017/18, half of all the pensioners who went to their local council in search of help were refused it. In total, 298,610 pensioners were refused help from their local authority, while a further 349,650 were advised to turn to other services. This is only the tip of the iceberg of course as so many will not go and ask for help in the first place, either through pride or simply because they have no idea that they can or how to ask if they do know.
Lesley Carter, speaking on behalf of the charity ‘Age UK’ has said: "Often they are becoming depressed and losing their appetite, they won’t see a doctor because they worry about taking up their time, they know how hard it is to get an appointment and by the time they are admitted to hospital things have got so much worse."
During the last 40 years, as local authority owned and run care homes have all but disappeared to be replaced by the private homes run strictly for profit, we have seen staffing levels shrink drastically, almost as much as the workers’ wages in real terms. This has created a crisis within so many of these ‘care’ homes as staff have no time to sit and chat with those cared for or to help them eat by reminding them to do it or physically aiding them. Meals are rushed out and cleared away as fast as tired staff try to keep to the scheduled times that are laid down.
For those lucky enough to receive care in their own homes, the same scenario applies: someone rushes in, puts a meal in front of the ‘cared’ for person and rushes out again without waiting to see if the client is eating it. The worker has times to be at the home of each person on their lists, a time which takes little notice of distance or traffic volume. The care-worker may think that whoever goes in next will report it if the client hasn’t eaten if the food is still there but in reality the food will probably be binned and replaced by another meal to stand until the next care-worker arrives. If uneaten meals are reported there is little chance of it going further, but in those rare cases the person in charge of the home-carer team passes it on to a social worker, the latter will invariably promise to look into the problem if it keeps on happening, right before being snowed under by another pile of social problems emanating from many more of these poor overlooked people.
Families of the elderly are spending roughly twice as much as they were ten years ago on care home places or at home-care schemes, while the state funding that gave some assistance has all but disappeared and their relatives, who are paying out so much for their care, are getting so little back, while the ‘care’ companies are seeing the profits of their businesses diminish in what is now a cut-throat industry.
Shelley Hopkinson, speaking for the charity ‘Independent Age’ was unsurprised by the released figures adding: “Too many older people aren’t getting the care they need because they’re put off by a complex and confusing system, while the crippling cost of care risks draining all of their savings," she also showed how this saving money by poor care in the end increased real costs when she said: "Going without care leads to people developing more complex health problems, and being unable to do things like prepare decent meals – resulting in many more people ending up in the care of the NHS.” Of course, the savings are being made mainly in the private sector (the exception being local authorities) and the increased costs are being borne by what’s left of the NHS.
Ms Hopkinson further pointed out that: “Chronic underfunding of local authorities means that even those who do have support will often receive insufficient or inadequate care, with no guarantee they will eat each day." And: "Even some care homes do not always provide and serve sufficient or nutritious food for their residents – so that people at the heart of the social care system are presenting as malnourished."
Central government and Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokespersons can wax lyrical all day about how much money is going into the NHS and welfare bodies but we know the 1001 ways that cash is transferred into private hands rather than any improvements in the situation that the most vulnerable in society find themselves trapped in as a result of being poor, disabled (physically or mentally) or old. Our people don’t need tears and pity, they do need change, and that will not come from those standing at the head of this system. It is we who must work to make those changes by any means necessary.