Two decades before World War Two began, my grandmother’s life turned upside down. She was an upright, strong, imposing woman, she had to be, as her husband had died quite young, leaving her with six children to bring up, and earn a living at the same time. She was trained as a teacher, trained and studied further, and took a Headship post for over two decades. In her retirement years and later life, she stayed in the homes of four of her family who had spare bedrooms, and was welcomed in all respects. She died at the age of eighty-three. This ‘care in their own family’ was so common-place in the world pre- and post-WW2 that no-one chronicled it. Family looked after family; and that was it.
Grandma was sometimes frail, querulous and just sometimes plain obstinate, but the younger family members, in those far-off days of the thirties through to the fifties and sixties, simply accepted that this old woman, or man in the case of Grandpa was Family: first, second and always; and where possible, made a plan. In the south of Continental Europe, in France, in Italy, in Spain, the older generation are looked upon as, virtually, the repository or memory of the family. GrandMere is a definite statement in France, and she, or her husband GrandPere, certainly in the Code Napoleon, have a right to be involved in all things Family.
So where and how did the older generation somehow be slid, adroitly, quietly and with no fanfare at all; into the bottom drawer of British Family life? How did they be pushed away, and seemingly automatically be subsumed into the ‘CareHome Industry’, without so much as a murmur of regret, of veiled annoyance, of any form of upset that so many older people are just consigned to the slag-heaps of society, which is what these dumping grounds have become?
For purely medical reasons, I was forced to place my wife in a care home so that I was able, at extremely short notice, to undergo medical checks and tests. Fortunately, the time was short-lived before I was able to claim my wife back from the ‘care’ of that Care Home. Signed off by the Care Quality Commission, this home was accepted by the Council, and advertised itself as such. As I said, ‘I was able to claim my wife back from the ‘care’ of that Care Home’. I shall not go into detail, but would state that I am sure that the staff members deserved their Minimum Wage payments at the month’s end. But the inmates, the shuffling pack, the sheer detritus of a society which would rather shovel their old family members ‘out of sight’ because they were surely ‘out of mind’!
In 1960, there were 3535 former Public Assistance Hospitals, Local authority Hostels, Charity-run and Privately-run care facilities in England.
In 2020, there are 21,861 Care Homes, catering for as few as six people, up to a Company- or Corporation-run care facility catering for 400. The statistic which should be burned into our National Psyche is the number 291,000, which is the number of Care Home Residents in England in 2019. ‘Care’ is big business in England. A week in a top-grade institution such as ‘The Priory’ can set you back £1,000.00 for a week’s stay. The average cost is £650.00, and ‘costs’ are forever rising.
Many are suffering from Dementia, some are ill with other ailments, many are lonely: but one common denominator stands out, mostly, they have all been forgotten. Every day, when my wife was resident in that home in County Durham, I drove across and spent at least two hours with my beloved. In the four-odd weeks of her stay, I counted exactly two other family visitors meeting their aged family members.
I do not count myself as anything special, these days religion does not count very highly in my own scheme of things: but I recall, every day, fifty-two years later; the words spoken to a smiling, soft-eyed witch who had beguiled me;-