Letters_ Britain’s shameful treatment of its elderly people _ Society _ The Guardian housing benefit reduction

It has the ring of a 19th-century dickens or balzac story: mary’s cleaner, chosen by a local support agency, left dirty washing in the sink because, she said, mary was blind so couldn’t see if the sink was clean or not ( care of older people: ‘I’ve got no one to support me. And I’m scared’, 1 march). We are hearing more and more about the rough and ready care of elderly people in britain – the legacy of thatcher’s and new labour’s privatising policies of homes for the elderly and care (not) in the community.

The feature describes the vast number of elderly people left struggling and isolated like mary – yet we read in the same article of the staggering amount of money floating around and out into shareholder accounts via this rotten system.

Why can’t a huge charity such as age UK get hold of some of this money to organise nationwide, not-for-profit, co-operative-style housing communities for the over 60s, offering a communal life (optional of course) for residents while keeping the billions of pounds inside a virtuous circle sans shareholders?Housing benefit reduction

surely such a trusted charity as age UK could act as a housing association/co-op, charging rents at cost – not for profit – employing staff on reasonable, normal pay scales. Is such an idea so impossible? No one is getting younger. It could be you – very soon.

• mary, and your readers, may be interested to know that attendance allowance is a non-means-tested benefit available to everyone aged 65 or over needing help with personal care due to physical or mental disability. There are two levels of benefit paid: lower at £49.30 per week; and higher at £73.60. You can apply online at directgov.Uk or telephone 0800 882200 for a claim pack, which is also available in braille. Assessments are usually carried out in the claimant’s home.

• just weeks after marking dignity action day, we have a report highlighting how we are failing to give people dignity in hospital and care settings ( report, 29 february).Housing benefit reduction the draft report of the commission on dignity in care calls for changes to culture, leadership, management, staff development, clinical practice and service delivery .

Surely the need for greater dignity goes deeper than that. At what point did we, as a society, stop treating each other – young or old – with dignity and respect? If respect was regarded as a fundamental in our education and upbringing we would not need campaign action days and reports telling us how to do it.

• the disdain for the elderly highlighted in the report is merely a symptom of a national malaise. The elderly repeatedly hear themselves described as bed blockers; their state pensions (an extra 25p a week at 80), winter fuel allowances and free travel passes are, apparently, bringing the country to its financial knees. They are, so they’re told, selfish in continuing to occupy family homes judged to be too large for them.Housing benefit reduction is it any wonder that some people carry this ethos into their work?

• the findings of the commission offer an encouraging step forward but are insufficient in two respects. Firstly, we should not kid ourselves that this is a recent problem. Thirty years ago, student nurses rotating in a london teaching hospital to geriatric medicine complained of six weeks wasted shit shovelling. Unlike holby city, most nursing is prosaic, and change will take time and determination.

Testing the values of staff, and ascertaining emotional intelligence in recruitment, will improve care. But hands-on care involves confronting on a daily basis things most of the population shy away from. Powerful, primitive emotions are evoked by pain, bodily functions, despair and death. For staff to understand and cope with these feelings they need regular and positive support: few NHS organisations currently address these issues.Housing benefit reduction

• the simple, heartfelt and poignant message from christine bryden when commenting about being cared for with dementia ( ‘it’s the way you talk to us, not what you say, that we will remember’, 29 february) moved me to tears. Those words should be the motto for the NHS and displayed on every hospital and care home wall as a reminder of what true personalised care is all about. We seem to have forgotten what really matters in our society today and, as christine bryden pleads: we’re still here in emotion and spirit – if only you could find us.

If only the NHS could find the will and motivation to gain an understanding of what really matters to patients and their relatives and make the simple changes so very obviously needed for a return to dignified care for all.

• if you believed the media, you would think every single care home is on the brink of financial collapse, full of staff who are at best indifferent and at worst downright abusive.Housing benefit reduction this simply is not the case. There are more than 21,000 care homes in the UK, the vast majority of them staffed by compassionate, caring individuals who work incredibly hard in very demanding circumstances.

Yes, there have been scandals. Yes, we are facing unprecedented financial pressures. There are many homes that could be significantly improved, and there is an urgent need for reform, both financial and regulatory. But to tar all care homes with the same brush does society a massive disservice, by striking fear into the hearts of older people who would get an incredible benefit from residential care. It also demotivates the many thousands of care home workers who do a fantastic job.