Margaret Gow: How life has changed for elderly relatives

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Things are becoming grave for the elderly (if you’ll pardon the expression). A recent report stated that over the past five years a million people have had to sell their homes in order to fund their care, which costs more than the Government offers. This comes as no surprise to me, but acts as a marker for the future when I become too tottery to live in a place with stairs on my own.

One big problem is that over the generations, offspring have tended to live further away from their parents; not like the ‘old days’ when family members lived, if not in the same street, at least in the same locality. If there was a problem, there was always someone who would call by mum’s/grandma’s and see if she needed anything doing which she couldn’t manage herself. After my grandfather was left alone, he had two children nearby to help out; and when it became clear that he couldn’t manage a house any more he sold up and lived with his three offspring in turn, three months at a time so that he wasn’t in the same place when spring came around.

The third family was ours, my mother having moved 80 miles away following her marriage. And that’s what has happened all over the country. People have had to follow the jobs rather than finding them in their ancestral towns, and it’s only a very lucky few these days who have children and grandchildren nearby. An even luckier few have a spare bedroom or a built-on granny flat in their relative’s house - because mainly, that is what the elderly would love. It’s all very well going into a “home” or “assisted living” or a “warden-controlled flat” - but however good they are, these places are not your kith and kin.

I could sell up and move nearer to one of mine, but then I would be even further away from the others. In any case, it would be just my luck for a son-in-law to get something really good but meaning relocation, leaving me high and dry wherever it was I had moved to - I have seen this happen to friends. What’s more, with the rising cost of owning a property and the difficulty of getting finance, those who have sold their main - or only - financial asset will have little or nothing to pass on to the younger generation to help them buy something of their own; and that’s not all. Suppose I had to sell to build on a ‘granny flat’ - I imagine the other three would feel hard done by. So back to the old song: “You’d be Far Better Off in a Home” (well, those of you my age will remember it anyway)...

The annual cost for a room in a care home is around £29,000 already, and assistance can bring this to over £40,000. With charges rising all the time, these figures make the savings cap of £23,500 (which includes your own house) set currently by the Government a derisory amount. Of course, this is recognised and Parliamentary moves are afoot to do something about it, such as deferring payment until the owner drops off the perch... which means, of course, that the children won’t inherit and brings us back to square one. The other question is: Who will bear the burden until death occurs, given that we are already in debt to the tune of billions? Even if you failed to pass GCSE maths, it doesn’t take much of a brain to see we are in huge trouble, and it’s getting worse by the day. Answers on one side of an A4 piece of paper, please.”