Sunday 10 January 2010

Barnet is no place to grow old if you are poor and alone

Sadly for some people, old age does arrive rather suddenly. For my mother, it arrived on the 15th December 2000 when she had a stroke. She was 75 and had been living the life of riley until that moment. I was shocked and angered when it was announced that she was going to the geriatric ward. I didn't see my mother as a geriatric and I was sure she'd "get better". She'd beaten cancer so how could she fail?

After 3 months she returned home and started living independently again. Trouble was she needed massive amounts of support, not least for the depression dealing with the loss of her old self.  Her major issue was her dysphasia which prevented her from communicating effectively. She had been extremely eloquent and intelligent. Being intelligent and being treated like an idiot is hell on earth.

I passionately believe (although I can't prove it) that if my mother had been given intensive rehabilitation for 3-6 months, especially with her speach, she'd have had a much better time. Eventually in 2004 I persuaded her to go to Lourdes with HCPT, a group which takes handicapped adults to a hostel in Bartres. Having a week of social interaction made a huge difference. Prior to the trip, she'd been having daily panic attacks about the most minor issues, after she recovered her confidence enough to get my sister to take her round ASDA.

Sadly, though the clock was against her and osteoperosis caught up with her, making her last two years hell. I will always believe that the day she lost the will to fight was the day Barnet outsourced her meals on wheels to Sodexho and her lunch never turned up. She felt that her "independence" was an illusion and she was just an encumberance.

This is why I oppose the warden cuts so passionately. I am sure that the loss of the warden will have the same effect on many elderly people in Barnet. My mother had 6 children who rallied around her and supported her. She was wealthy and could afford to pay for private carers, who actually cared about her as well as for her. She had moments in her last few years when she enjoyed life. She drank a couple of pints of Guinness every night until she died. Whenever she was taken into hospital (this happened regularly), we'd smuggle her a beer in. Towards the end of her life she was told that she needed to go on warfarin to thin her blood or she'd have another stroke. This meant stopping boozing. She told the doctor that she'd rather die than give up the one pleasure she had left. We all supported this decision. In August 2008, five days after returning from Lourdes, she had another stroke and died. She, as ever had her Guinness and her glass of scotch. I wasn't around, I'd gone of to San Francisco with the family. My sister was over from the States and was caring for her.

Why am I writing about this in my blog? Just to explain why I feel so passionately about care for the elderly in Barnet. I loved my mum dearly and there isn't a day when I don't miss her terribly. In the year before my mothers stroke she's been on 4 lengthy cruises. She had a new partner, a lovely man and was comfortable and happy. She looked 10 years younger than her 75 years and was the life and soul of any party. None of us know how long we'll live. None of us know whether we'll see out our final years in health or illness. With todays financial climate, it is possible that those of us who today are wealthy will live out our final years in abject poverty.

I will never forget how upset my brother was when he visited my mother at Barnet General shortly after her stroke and she'd messed herself and been left for hours in bed. He caused a huge fuss and she was properly cared for after that. How many old dears have no one to fight their corner? She broke her hip in 2005 and nearly died during a C-Diff epidemic whilst supposedly recuperating in Finchley Memorial hospital. My sister had flown in from the States. She's a trained nurse and sat by my mother for days, ensuring she was looked after and hydrated. Many elderly people in beds next to her died during the infection and the hospital was effectively isolated. At the time, I got the distinct impression that there is a feeling within the medical profession that the elderly didn't warrant the same standard of care as a young person would get.

Barnet Council under Lynne Hillan has been at war with its elder and vulnerable tenants who live in sheltered accomodation. Barnet Council are trying to get rid of the warden service and rob many people of their independence. If my mum was still alive, I'd be too wrapped up with her care to do much about it. As it is she's gone, but I hear her telling me "Don't let them get away with it". This is the main reason why I've agreed to stand for the Lib Dems in Mill Hill ward. I believe that Barnet Council needs a conscience. I believe that it needs a voice for those who can't speak for themselves. Most of all I believe that the likes of Lynne Hillan should be ejected from office and replaced by people who are standing for Council to give something back to the community. Not a single Conservative Councillor has voted against the Warden cuts. Every single one of them is tainted by this decision.

Over the coming months, I'll be explaining other reasons why I wish to stand, but if it wasn't for the Sheltered housing warden issue and it wasn't for my experiences with my Mum, I'd never have got involved. Whatever happens in May and whatever I do in the Council, there is one thing you can be sure of. If there is any way that I can save the Warden service I will do it. Not least because I passionately believe that if I didn't my mum would come back and haunt me.


Don't Call Me Dave said...


You are right to highlight the fact that no Conservative councillor has voted against the warden cuts - or even spoken out against them publicly. Privately, many Tory councillors have told me that they do not agree with the policy but they have been put under pressure to go along with the scheme and say nothing.

Whilst this does not surprise me, it speaks volumes about the calibre of these councillors they are willing to go along with the demand and, as you say, they are as guilty as those councillors who have voted for the cuts.

Many party members have told me that they won’t vote Conservative in May. They will not vote for any other party, but they will withhold their vote this time as a protest. They recognise that there are some issues which are more important than party politics.

In the Far East, senior citizens are respected and valued by their communities. In Barnet, they are seen as a hindrance by bean counters. Voters need to make it clear to all candidates (of all parties) what they think of the warden cuts and if some Councillors lose their seats, it will serve them right.

Rog T said...


I can think of nothing worse than sitting on your hands when you know such an issue is fundamentally wrong. To me that in itself disqualifies them from the right to represent us.

What really upsets me is how big fat allowances are doled out to buy people off. The crazy thing is that they are still persisiting, when the court judgement and the Leadership change gave them a get out clause. As it is they are just digging an ever bigger hole.