Shameful levels of malnutrition in Britain

Privatisation and cost-cutting in social care have led to shocking levels of neglect amongst the most vulnerable in our society.

Lalkar writers

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Lalkar writers

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While the various ‘remain in Europe’ bourgeois parties, groups and celebrities, along with their tame media outlets, are busy telling all and sundry that we will all starve as our society crashes around our ears if Brexit is finally achieved, a very real plague of malnutrition is walking British streets right now.

That the benefit thieves of the Department of Works and Pensions (DWP) and their private inquisitors are pushing as many disabled and unemployed people of working age, along with their families, to the brink of destitution, hunger and homelessness as they can is well known to our regular readers.

But a lesser-known crisis within what is left of Britain’s welfare system is the treatment – perhaps lack of treatment would be a better description – of the elderly and those suffering from mental illness. These two groups are often blurred, since many elderly people lose mental capabilities with age while those who suffer from mental illnesses are growing older, if they manage to survive in this society, all the time.

The Sunday Telegraph published an article on 18 August 2019 that was not only a timely indictment of the run-down of the NHS and welfare provision in Britain, but was, more broadly, through the figures quoted and the questions raised, a scathing indictment of the final imperialist stage of capitalist production, healthcare and morality in general.

In 2017/18, it says, there were 8,537 people admitted to A&E units who were incidentally suffering from various levels of malnutrition (as compared to 2,893 in 2008/9). This reveals a staggering 300 percent increase in adult hospital admissions with a primary or secondary diagnosis of malnutrition in the past decade or so. Most of these people were taken to hospital for some other reason with the malnutrition only discovered while the patient was on a hospital ward.

Given that it takes a fall or some other accident or a severe illness to get these people onto a hospital bed in the first place, we can only guess at how many people at large in Britain today are seriously undernourished. The scope of the problem ranges from an individual missing two or three meals a week to extreme cases of those barely getting by on a diet of cream crackers or something similar.

Local authority welfare care services are in meltdown. Statistics from the NHS reveal that, in 2017/18, half of all the pensioners who went to their local council in search of help were refused it. In total, 298,610 pensioners were refused help from their local authority, while a further 349,650 were advised to turn to other services.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, of course, since many will not go and ask for help in the first place – either through pride or simply because they have no idea that they could ask, or no idea how to ask if they do know that such a thing is possible in theory.

According to Lesley Carter of charity Age UK: “Often they are becoming depressed and losing their appetite. They won’t see a doctor because they worry about taking up their time. They know how hard it is to get an appointment, and by the time they are admitted to hospital things have got so much worse.”

During the last 40 years, as local authority-owned and run care homes have all but disappeared, to be replaced by private homes run strictly for profit, we have seen staffing levels shrink drastically – almost as much as the workers’ wages in real terms.

This has created a crisis within so many of these ‘care’ homes, as staff have no time to sit and chat with those cared for, or to help them eat by reminding them to do it or physically aiding them. Meals are rushed out and cleared away as fast as possible, as tired staff try to keep to the scheduled times.

For those lucky enough to receive care in their own homes, the same scenario applies: someone rushes in, puts a meal in front of the ‘cared-for’ person, and rushes out again, without waiting to see if the client is eating it. The care worker has scheduled times to be at the home of each person on their list – a time that takes little notice of distance or traffic volume, never mind the varying needs of the people they are visiting.

The care worker may think that whoever goes in next will report back if the client hasn’t eaten the food, but in reality, it will probably be binned and replaced by another meal to stand until the next care worker arrives.

If uneaten meals are reported, there is little likelihood of the issue progressing further. In those rare cases where it does, the person in charge of the homecare team will pass the matter on to a social worker, who will promise to look into the problem if it keeps on happening, right before being snowed under by a pile of social problems emanating from many more of these poor overlooked people.

Families of the elderly are spending roughly twice as much as they were ten years ago on carehome places or at homecare schemes, while the state funding that gave some assistance has all but disappeared. Their relatives, who are paying out so much for their care, are getting very little in return, while the ‘care’ companies are seeing the profits of their businesses diminish in what is now a cut-throat industry.

Shelley Hopkinson of charity Independent Age was unsurprised by the released figures, saying: “Too many older people aren’t getting the care they need because they’re put off by a complex and confusing system, while the crippling cost of care risks draining all of their savings.”

She also explained how saving money by providing poor care has ended up increasing real costs: “Going without care leads to people developing more complex health problems, and being unable to do things like prepare decent meals – resulting in many more people ending up in the care of the NHS.”

Of course, the savings are being made mainly by the private sector (and some local authorities), while the increased costs are being borne by what’s left of the NHS.

Ms Hopkinson further pointed out: “Chronic underfunding of local authorities means that even those who do have support will often receive insufficient or inadequate care, with no guarantee they will eat each day … Even some care homes do not always provide and serve sufficient or nutritious food for their residents, so that people at the heart of the social care system are presenting as malnourished.”

Central government and Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokespersons can wax lyrical all day about how much money is going into the NHS and welfare bodies, but we know the 1,001 ways that cash is transferred into private hands instead of being used to make meaningful improvements in the situation that the most vulnerable in society find themselves trapped in as a result of being poor, disabled (physically or mentally) or old.

Our people don’t need tears and pity, they need change. But that will not come from those standing at the head of this rotten system. It is we who must work to make those changes, by any means necessary.