I have been spending quite a lot of time with my mum recently. She has broken her ankle. It has got us talking about what happens when people get older and how we would like to be cared for. My mum is (when she’s not falling in holes at allotments!) a fit and active 73 year old. She is not in need of twenty four hour personal or medical care but, if she were, I like to think that we, as a family, would be able to provide it. We might need some support to do that but we certainly wouldn’t need the kind of services offered to the Figg family of Coventry.
What kind of ‘care’ is it to come and snatch a woman of 86 from her family home (with police and battering ram at the ready) and take her back to an institution in which her daughter says she is unhappy? What kind of brutal, self-righteous ‘care’ is that? So, apparently, ‘experts’ deem that this woman needs the kind of specialist attention that can only be provided in an institution. A spokesperson for the local authority is quoted as saying,
“Social services decided she needed to be in a specialist home because they were concerned that the high level of care she required might not be met by her daughter and her partner.
He said: "If someone needs caring for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, we have to look at what additional support is there and whether one person can realistically offer that level of care.
"There is a lot of personal care management as well as the dispensation of often complex medication.”
What strikes me is that an institution might well be very competent at dispensing complex medication but people there won’t be dispensing love.
We, as a society, have fallen into the trap of thinking that care is some kind of product – a package or a programme. To care is a verb – caring is about doing. For me, that doing is often motivated by loving. Love is almost entirely absent from official discussion about how people are best cared for. I was thinking this a few weeks ago when there was a report on some study or other that claimed that children in nurseries had better ‘skills’ than those cared for by their grandparents. I couldn’t help wondering how one would quantify the benefits of being cared for (in your very early years) by people who love you. I suspect it can’t be done. But I'm still sure that those extra hugs and kisses in toddlerhood are of huge significance to the long-term health and happiness of those people lucky enough to get them.
The thing is that we are people, not plants. We do best when we are recognised as the unique individuals we are. This is best done by people who know us very well. When people know us for who we really are, and love us for that, we are really home. In my later years I don’t want to come to in a moment of lucidity to find myself dressed in a peach frock, parked in front of some daytime soap. I want to be with people who know *me* not how to care for an ‘old person’.
I’m not saying that no-one should use residential care services. People have to make the decisions that work for them. But if people want to live together with their elderly relatives, rather than see them placed in an institution, then I’d rather my taxes were funding services to help them do that than paying the wages of people to come and abduct them back into four walls ‘for their own good’.
The failure to recognise the huge significance of love is probably no surprise when you look at how governments behave. But what has happened in our world that the word of an ‘expert’ has come to trump our love for each other? What dark times are these that we are being sold the idea that institutional settings are in our best interest, from the cradle to the grave?