The elderly need love, not rights

Shoddy, pitiful care for the elderly and failing care homes are back in the papers today, being flagged up by a team of Telegraph journos (Emily Gosden, Tim Ross, Martin Beckford and Richard Alleyne). It’s understandable that the challenges that this neglect and inadequate care raises are put in terms of ‘human rights’. However listening to the coverage this morning I found myself wondering about whether we have the correct narrative.

It seems to me that if we immediately put the case in terms of ‘rights’ then we lose the essence of what is going wrong. And the best way I can think of to describe this essence is love. Because an absence or opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. And indifference is at the heart of the problem we now face. Too many of us think that caring for the elderly is someone else’s job. Whether it’s been a sub-conscious abdication of personal responsibility to the Social Services, a weak-willed acceptance of State-dependency or deliberate elder neglect the causes, or even the causes of the causes, need urgent exposure.

And the debate cannot be immature or socialist, because we simply cannot afford a return to the State ‘production, distribution and exchange’ Clause IV centrist mentality that Blair so rightly rejected but some health leaders seem to think is the answer. We need the articulation of a moral responsibility, based on strong families and communities, on Benjamin Franklin’s thirteen virtues, on absolute principles and a society in which not only neglect by fathers is a shame, but neglect by friends and neighbours is as well.

You cannot legislate for love. But government can support the institutions and role models that promote and inculcate and inspire. During my time as a home-visiting optician I saw the best and worst of home ‘care’. There are neighbours and friends out there who are earthly angels, giving selflessly to the elderly next door and who do so not out of obligation, but out of what I can only describe as love. They’d probably be embarrassed by that description, but that is what it is.  It certainly isn’t a response to their neighbour’s human rights. We cannot now be in ignorance of the fear in which too many elderly people live. As ever, there needs to be a personal, community and political response to this scandal, but let’s start by talking about that incredible uniquely powerful human quality of love, and we might actually improve things.  

About Julia Manning

Julia is a social pioneer, writer and campaigner. She studied visual science at City University and became a member of the College of Optometrists in 1991, later specialising in visual impairment and diabetes. During her career in optometry, she lectured at City University, was a visiting clinician at the Royal Free Hospital and worked with Primary Care Trusts. She ran a domiciliary practice across south London and was a Director of the UK Institute of Optometry. Julia formed 20/20Health in 2006. Becoming an expert in digital health solutions, she led on the NHS–USA Veterans’ Health Digital Health Exchange Programme and was co-founder of the Health Tech and You Awards with Axa PPP and the Design Museum. Her research interests are now in harnessing digital to improve personal health, and she is a PhD candidate in Human Computer Interaction (HCI) at UCL. She is also dedicated to creating a sustainable Whole School Wellbeing Community model for schools that builds relationships, discovers assets and develops life skills. She is a member of the Royal Society of Medicine’s Digital Health Council. Julia has shared 2020health's research widely in the media (BBC News, ITV, Channel 5 News, BBC 1′s The Big Questions & Victoria Derbyshire, BBC Radio 4 Today, PM and Woman's Hour, LBC) and has taken part in debates and contributed to BBC’s Newsnight, Panorama, You and Yours and ITV’s The Week.
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