Conditions of the working class: The elderly in care

CPGB-ML members and supporters urged to campaign for the elderly.

There have recently been reports in the press of the scandalous treatment meted out to elderly working-class people in local authority care homes, from which they have been unceremoniously removed by local authorities seeking to save money.

When these homes are closed, the elderly residents are distributed around the country to wherever they can be accommodated, often far from family and friends, and heartlessly separated from staff and fellow residents at their old care home with whom they have been living for many years and have formed friendships which they value and on which they rely.

One case highlighted recently was that of 106-year old Mrs Louisa Watts, who is believed to be the fifth-oldest person alive in Britain today.

She had been living in a care home in Wolverhampton with eight other residents who had become her friends and she was happy there. The council arbitrarily declared that the home needed refurbishing at a cost of £2m, which it could not afford (actually the home was perfectly habitable without any refurbishment at all, but no doubt the council have plans to sell it off to developers or something similar), and so the patients would have to be removed and dispersed to different homes.

With the assistance of campaigning solicitor Yvonne Hossack, Mrs Watts challenged the decision to close the home, and obtained an interim injunction preventing the proposed removals. However, on 7 October, the Court of Appeal decided against her, having admitted that if there was irrefutable evidence that removing Mrs Watts might cause a deterioration in her health they would have decided otherwise.

Since there was plenty of statistical evidence before the court showing that after elderly people are moved a higher proportion (37 percent) of them die shortly afterwards than the proportion of people of a similar age who are not moved (18 percent), it is impossible to see why the Court of Appeal took the view that Mrs Watts had insufficient evidence to prove her point.

Moreover, the psychiatrist, on whose evidence the Court of Appeal purported to justify its decision, actually confirmed that the move was likely to shorten Mrs Watts’ life, but had merely claimed that this effect could be minimised by careful management.

All one can conclude is that it is obviously not the business of the courts to protect the interests of the weak and vulnerable – they are there to serve big business, which wants to see a reduction in the cost of looking after the elderly in order to enable councils to reduce their business rates bills.

On 21 November, Mrs Watts launched an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

The closure of Mrs Watts’ home is not an isolated case. Her solicitor, Yvonne Hossack, has been fighting a myriad of similar cases. So successful has she been in that that the powers-that-be hauled her in front of the Law Society’s disciplinary tribunal earlier this year, trying to get her suspended from practising as a solicitor on the grounds of her alleged unprofessional conduct, based mainly on her alleged breaches of client confidentiality.

However, it was not any clients who complained – it was some psychiatrist outsider! Happily, this attempt at intimidation failed.

This is not the first time that attempts have been made to make it impossible for her to continue representing the interests of the elderly and infirm, however. As the Daily Mail reported a few weeks ago:

She has, she says, saved 80 care homes from closure. But the cost to her – physically, emotionally and financially – has been crippling.

Her business has always incurred heavy financial losses because she takes on many more cases than she had legal aid to finance.

However, her perilous economic position became catastrophic when, in 2004, the Legal Services Commission disputed her spending and claimed back £33,000 from her.

She believes it was no coincidence that this happened a day after she had taken a disabled client to Downing Street to lobby the Prime Minister.

She was forced to make several staff in her practice redundant, ransacking every penny of her savings to pay them. A year later, her legal aid franchise was suspended for 18 months.

Faced with abandoning her clients or working for nothing, she chose the latter course.

‘I’d been a thorn in the side of the establishment for a number of years,’ she says. ‘I was given a choice: to cease the work I was doing and keep my business, or continue and face bankruptcy.

‘My overdraft was at its limit, we’d remortgaged the house and the stress on my marriage was terrific. David and I became courteous strangers and eventually we separated,’ she says. Although her legal aid contract was reinstated, and she just avoided bankruptcy, she continues to take on hundreds more cases each year than she has government aid to finance.

She no longer owns a car and, at her lowest ebb, she was too strapped for cash even to buy groceries. A client on income support sent her a food parcel; another pensioner pressed £60 into her hand after looking in her fridge and finding it bare.

Such heart-warming gestures have sustained her. She is in equal measure heroic and bloody-minded. She says that not one of the people she has helped – she estimates that they number 15,000 – has ever lodged a complaint against her.” (18 September 2009)

Truly, Yvonne Hossack has shown an extraordinary degree of heroism, and we wholeheartedly salute her. It is clear from this information about Yvonne Hossack’s workload that up and down the country there are a very high number of old people’s homes threatened with closure.

We urge our members and supporters in every locality to make it their business to find out whether any such proposals are being mooted in their own areas and, if so, that they take steps to mobilise local people against such closures and to make sure that everybody understands (a) that this fight is important because unless we die sooner we are all destined to be old, frail and helpless one day, (b) the people cared for in council homes are overwhelming ordinary working-class people for whose interests we are pledged to fight, and (c) that our enemy in the fight for a proper level of care in old age is capitalism, which in its lust for profit is only too happy effectively to kill working-class people off before their time, regarding anyone who is not actually engaged in making profits for capitalism as nothing but a useless drain on their resources who would be better off dead.

We must expose the complicity of state agencies that are supposed to be helping the weak and infirm, from the local authorities to the courts, in safeguarding first and foremost the interests of the bloodsucking bourgeoisie. We must help people understand that this is the way working-class people will always be treated under capitalism and mobilise them not only for the right to dignity in old age but also for the fight for socialism.