Monday, January 03, 2011

Sign Here Please

You don't have to look too closely upon the welfare state to realise that the good years are well and truly over. Years of profligacy, over-spending, lack of investment, and mis-guided attitudes are coming home to roost.

Pensions have been raided, the number of layabouts on welfare with a 'bad back' or 'slight epilepsy' have ballooned while medical research into keeping those with unfortunate diseases like Alzheimer's alive, for what reason I know not, is receiving funding although caring for those in an advanced state is not.

I was brought up in a world where borders were easily crossed and mobility was the key to success. Many like me made a life abroad, got married, got jobs, had children, got on with it. We popped back on cheap flights and our parents popped out to visit us and take advantage of sunny locations and free holiday accommodation.

As we age though, as our kids grow older and turn into stroppy adolescents demanding smart phones and computers, so do our parents. Their health declines and they contract horrors such as Alzheimer's. In times gone by, the welfare state stepped in and took care of the frailest. Partners were not forced to become full-time carers of husbands or wives who had become zombies with bodily functions issues.

They are now though. Now there is no money to care properly for those afflicted with terrible degenerating diseases like Alzheimer's. They stay at home with the partner who drew the short straw - the partner who finds herself on the end of aggression, total lack of comprehension, disturbed nights, mopping and cleaning up messes of both sorts, irritating hovering and watching, restless pacing and rubbing, pushing and shoving, and refusal to eat/go to the toilet/get dressed/get undressed, etc.

The council sends round trained carers to dress and undress morning and night, wash, and dish out useless medication but they won't come if the patient gets nasty. Then what? The partner gets lumbered. Day care centres open to provide relief but they close on bank holidays, weekends, and because they are not 'up to standard', and then the partner has days upon days of a recalcitrant, truculent, body lurking and pacing, eating anything that isn't in a cupboard, moving anything that isn't nailed down, pocketing anything that takes his fancy (like tv remotes) and trying to escape.

The partner is distressed, frustrated, exhausted and furious. She signed up for 'death us do part' not 'Alzheimer's us do part in mind but not body'. She calls upon her children, but they are busy with jobs, families and living miles away. In former times, families lived in the same village, or same area and could be on stand by to give a hand. Grandparents helped with babysitting, gardening, work in the house and so on. Now that we all live so far away, we have to pay babysitters and odd job men. No one is on hand, everything has to be planned, tickets bought and arrangements made.

The welfare state wants to hand over responsibility for caring for aged parents to family members who tend to be scattered all over the globe. How is that supposed to work? Are we supposed to give up jobs, come back and go on welfare to be on-hand, living with our parents in their house like we did as teenagers? What about our spouses and children?

It's a total shambles of incoherent policies and non-communication between governmental departments. Quite apart from the fact that they are all living in cloud-cuckoo land. Nursing homes fees should be investigated because they charge an obscene amount of money while paying their staff the minimum wage. Nursing home owners are getting fat on the profits of fees while the days of inheriting anything other than nursing home debts and funeral expenses are numbered. Parents who saved with the aim of passing something on find that they have to hand everything over to get a minimum degree of care in a pee-smelling institution. So why save?

What is the plan, that is what I want to know. What is expected of us? Are we to go back to Victorian times when one child was delegated as the carer, to have no life until everyone was dead? Why are we paying for a welfare state that favours keeping irresponsible people out of work because they are better off at home? Why has the welfare state reneged on its mission to care for the frailest in favour of the useless?

As someone said, you couldn't make it up. The system is so twisted and out of sync that it'll take years of dedication to put it right and where's that going to come from?

I'm starting the year in a negative frame of mind because of the hopelessness of situation, the distress that carers like my mother suffer, and the pressure that such suffering puts onto our shoulders when life is quite hard enough as a single parent and making ends meet. I think we're called the sandwich generation, stuck between the increasing financial demands of educating offspring and caring for elderly parents. The good old days of freedom are over, let's just get out our chequebooks and sign away our lives.

Happy New Year.

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