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Author: Age UK
Published on 21 January 2016 12:01 AM

Almost 12,500 blind and partially sighted older people become casualties of the social care crisis

Thousands of blind and partially sighted older people are not receiving any social care support, becoming the latest casualties of the social care crisis, according to Charities Age UK and RNIB.

In the four financial years between 2008/2009[i] and 2012/2013[ii], there was a 36.5% reduction in social care services to older people with visual impairment – of which approximately 12,415[iii] blind or partially sighted older people (65 and over) missed out on receiving vital social care services to help with everyday basic essential daily living tasks, such as getting out of bed, cooking, cleaning, getting washed and dressed and receiving help with eating.

The Charities warn that unmet care needs to older people with sight loss is likely to be even higher, as there are many older people who have care needs but do not receive any formal help and support, and therefore are not recorded in official data. Research suggests that 50% of registered blind and partially sighted older people are living alone, which increases the risk of them having unmet care needs.

The findings, revealed in Age UK and RNIB’s new report, Improving later life for people with sight loss, show that older people with sight loss have been disproportionately affected by the loss of community based services due to funding cuts. Although care and support services have declined for all adults with a physical disability, older people with sight loss have been especially badly affected[iv]. The Charities’ new report claims that this unmet need has had considerable consequences for the wider health and wellbeing of older blind and partially sighted people, and for their independence. It also paints a worrying picture for the future of this group.

Not receiving social care support has considerable consequences for older people who are blind or partially sighted and who need it. Compared with the general older population, older people with sight loss are more likely to have multiple health conditions, to be on a low income and to live in poor quality housing.

Older people with sight loss are also twice as likely to fall as their sighted peers and have a higher risk of injury. Every year, more than 2.3 million[v] older people aged 65 and over have a fall and an estimated 87,790[vi] falls each year are attributed to older people with sight loss. Almost 17% of these fall victims require hospital admission[vii], resulting in higher costs to the NHS. Falls are not only costly to the individual; they are estimated to cost the NHS and social care system around £6 million per day – or £2.3bn[viii] a year.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK says: 'That so many blind or partially sighted older people who need social care aren’t getting is profoundly shocking. Losing our sight is something many of us fear the most, and the idea of struggling alone without social care assistance in such circumstances seems appalling in a civilised society. '

'I wish I could say that the Spending Review outcome means the position is set to improve next year, but unfortunately too little money will be coming into social care, too late. Even at this late stage we hope the Government will think again.'

Fazilet Hadi, Director of Engagement at RNIB, said: 'Social care support can be vital to blind and partially sighted people in later life, enabling them to live with dignity and choice. However, older people with sight loss are increasingly missing out on social care and vision rehabilitation services. Being left alone to cope with sight loss in later life is wholly unacceptable. No matter how tight government budgets are, this is essential support which must be provided.'

The current economic and policy environment offers little to those seeking to improve support for older people with sight loss. Further cuts across the wider public sector provision will continue to impact on services that blind and partially sighted older people reply on. Age UK and RNIB believe the new health and social care integration agenda presents a real opportunity to address these issues, but with budgets stretched, there is real risk that the full potential of integration may not be realised and the quality of life for blind and partially sighted older people will deteriorate.

> Improving later life for people with sight loss

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Notes to editors

[i] http://www.hscic.gov.uk/catalogue/PUB01654/comm-care-eng-08-09-soci-serv-acti-rep-tab.xls

[ii] http://www.hscic.gov.uk/catalogue/PUB13148/comm-care-stat-act-eng-2012-13-fin-anxe.xls

[iii] 34,000 older people with visual impairment in 2008/2009; 21,585 older people with visual impairment in 2012/2013. Reduction in 4 years = 12,415 (65 plus).

[iv] Secondary analysis of Adult Care Date (2013). Blake M and Byron C, National Centre for Social Research – research commissioned by RNIB.

[v] England figure taken from RNIB sight loss tool: http://www.rnib.org.uk/knowledge-and-research-hub-key-information-and-statistics/sight-loss-data-tool

[vi] England figure taken from RNIB sight loss tool: http://www.rnib.org.uk/knowledge-and-research-hub-key-information-and-statistics/sight-loss-data-tool

[vii] Estimated number of falls amongst people 65 and over requiring hospital admission: 183,032.

[viii] National Osteoporosis Facts and Figures, NOS website

http://www.nos.org.uk/NetCommunity/Page.aspx?pid=328&srcid=312 (accessed October 2010)

For media enquiries relating to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland please contact the appropriate national office: Age Scotland on 0131 668 8055, Age Cymru on 029 2043 1562 and Age NI on 028 9024 5729.

About Age UK

We work with our national partners, Age Scotland, Age Cymru and Age NI and our local Age UK partners in England (together the Age UK Family). We also work internationally for people in later life as a member of the DEC and with our sister charity Help Age International.

Age UK believes that everyone should have the opportunity to make the most of later life, whatever their circumstances. We provide free information, advice and support to over six million people; commercial products and services to over one million customers; and research and campaign on the issues that matter to people in later life. Our work focuses on five key areas: money matters, health and well being, home and care, work and training and leisure and lifestyle.

Age UK is a charitable company limited by guarantee and registered in England (registered charity number 1128267 and company number 6825798). Age Concern England and Help the Aged (both registered charities), and their trading and other associated companies merged on the 1st April 2009. Together they have formed the Age UK Group (“we”). Charitable services are offered through Age UK and commercial products are offered by the Charity’s trading companies, which donate their net profits to Age UK (the Charity).

About RNIB

Every 15 minutes, someone in the UK begins to lose their sight. We are the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and we're here for everyone affected by sight loss - that's almost 2 million people in the UK. If you, or someone you know, has a sight problem, RNIB can help. Call the RNIB Helpline on 0303 123 9999 or visit www.rnib.org.uk

For more information: Call Age UK Advice: 0800 169 2081