I have been trained as a Surrey County Councillor in dementia awareness and pledged to be a Dementia Friend. What would that mean if I were elected as MP?
I don’t accept that the best way to do this is Theresa May’s approach – to cut funding to local councils (who pay for social care) by £5.7 billion and instead increase the burden that will be paid by individuals through their £100,000 home “dementia tax” cap.
By loading the burden of responsibility on individuals – and particularly in Surrey with its high house prices – this is likely to increase stress and anxiety for elderly people. Totally unacceptable. Instead of worsening the current ‘care lottery’. where those with the greatest care needs have such a tax imposed on them, and risk a lack of dignity in older age, we need to fund social care equitably across society. So what might this response look like for dementia?
Firstly, we must reverse the cuts to the social care and NHS budgets have led to a crisis in care in the UK. As a county councillor I campaigned against the closure of Surrey’s last residential care homes –and raised this in council meetings. I have had residents and care workers highlight poor standards in some care homes. One care worker pointed out to me that there are minimum care ratios for residential care homes in Northern Ireland, yet funding pressures in England are increasingly putting patients at risk. Academics around the world have shown that minimum staffing levels save lives. Yet the standard of some care homes in Surrey is, in my view, not good enough (consider, for example, Merok Park in Banstead. This in itself needs a public inquiry to undercover the true extent of care home problems.
Secondly, I am concerned that the causes of dementia are rarely discussed, such as the increasing link between air pollution and dementia. While many have highlighted how air pollution leads to 40,000 early deaths in the UK each year there has been far less focus on what the health impacts are. Increasingly, research is linking air pollution to issues like dementia. So, the government should act – not just because it is in breach of minimum standards on air pollution, but because the health impacts – and costs – are huge.
Finally, I think dementia needs a new approach. I want to end on a positive note by highlighting the work of a good friend of mine, Brigitta. She is a Swiss nun who teaches social workers how to care for those with dementia. Her story is this – that you forget how to do tasks before you forget how to love. That a hand massage can reach those who no longer remember facts or names. This message is highlighted in the work of the many caring people who see people with dementia as people first, and seek to find the things they can still do and enjoy. The best care homes already do this of course – as in the example of the young care worker who helped a 93-year old musician reunite with his band.
I will definitely continue to do what I can to support those with dementia in my community – whether I’m elected to parliament or not. But if I’m elected would wish to take this further, and highlight how the lives of people with dementia locally, and their families and friends, is already impacted by the proposed Conservative changes, and that to stand up for those with dementia and their relatives a sea-change in how dementia is addressed is required.