Coronavirus has dominated news outlets for the past few days - a worrying time for many of us when we think about our elderly relatives and friends, people with compromised immune systems and vulnerable people sleeping rough on our streets. It is important, however, to keep some perspective on this; as at the time of writing, a total of 23,513 people in the UK have been tested for coronavirus, of which 273 were confirmed positive. We must all try and take steps to protect ourselves and our families, particularly the elderly, by washing our hands in soap and water and sneezing into a handkerchief or elbow and do what we can to help those in need.
I recently met with a charity, Independent Age, as I am determined that when I am lobbying government for better transport infrastructure and education, our elderly should not be forgotten about and that we get to grips with our social care crisis. I will not forget visiting Hastings Court Care Home during the election campaign and being presented with a beautifully written letter signed by many of the residents, asking me, as a candidate, to stand up for our local elderly so that they do not have to sell their homes to pay for their care in old age. It was very poignant to hear from residents who had committed their lives to their country, paying their taxes and saving for their old age to have to sell their hard-worked-for-home to pay for the care they desperately need in their twilight years.
Our social care system has been in a crisis for far too long. We all know how expensive care homes are and even if an elderly person is able to remain in their own home, they are faced with high costs for help with basic tasks such as getting out of bed, washing and other personal needs. Our current system means that the amount an elderly person pays depends on their assets; in many ways, it means that people who save for their old age, have a pension and pay off their mortgage (if they own a home) are almost punished for doing so. The system needs to change – we should be encouraging people to save for their old age and reward them for doing so.
What I have found quite shocking are the figures regarding Pension Credit. This is an income-related benefit which is specifically designed to lift pensioners out of poverty. It is estimated that 4 in 10 pensioner households who are entitled to Pension Credit do not receive it – because they are not claiming it. In Hastings and Rye we have approximately 24,690 older people. Of these pensioners, 3,229 pensioner households are not claiming Pension Credit when they are entitled to it. This amounts to £8.1 million in Hastings and Rye which is not being claimed by the very people who need it the most.
Our Prime Minister has committed to ensuring that no one should have to sell their home to pay for their care. This will not happen in the timescales for the lovely residents I met in Hastings Court, but I will be fighting to ensure it happens for others.
(Information on how to claim Pension Credit can be found at ageuk.org.uk/01273 476 704)
Sally-Ann Hart MP