Current affairs group examines social care

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When I was invited to go along to the U3A Current Affairs Group at the start of November, I wrongly assumed that the discussion would be around the American Election. I couldn’t have been more wrong writes Caroline Green of Wetherby U3A.

It was to be much more important than that and much closer to home. The state of the Social Care system in England was to be the topic of the day.

Sandra Ellen, who has been Group leader of the Current Affairs since its inception, welcomed a full hall at St James Scout Hut, which has wheelchair access and is in the centre of Wetherby. She also welcomed everyone who hadn’t been to one of the Group’s meetings previously, and checked that everyone could hear.

All these small details are so important and Sandra gave them due weight and attention. The tea and biscuits planned for half time are also an important part of the social aspect of U3A Meetings, enabling everyone to chat and meet other people.

The speaker for the day was David Masterman, who has had a long association with WISE (Wetherby in Support of the Elderly) as their Chair, and had Chaired the U3A Current Affairs Group in Harrogate previously. He stressed that he was not an expert but an observer of what goes on, and as Social Care is such a pertinent issue, it seemed appropriate that he use his experience in Adult & Social Care in the Leeds Education Authority to inform a discussion in the Leeds Authority.

He took us back to a time before the 1948 when children were often ‘farmed out’ to ‘Aunts and Uncles’, who often were not relatives. This was the Care in the Community of its day. David explained the difficulties experienced prior to 1948 and the introduction of the National Health Service when people couldn’t afford Doctor’s fees and died prematurely. He went on to explain the labyrinth that is the Adult and Social Care provision of our day, how difficult it is to negotiate, and how unwieldy it has become.

Demographically we now have lots of elderly carers, an awesome responsibility, and by 2020 20 per cent of the population will be over 65. He added to these figures by telling us how the Leeds City Council budget has been reduced by 40 per cent and in order to deliver their legal requirement the authority has to close libraries, Day Centres and other facilities. This of course is where organisations such as WISE, Carer’s Resource, the Stroke Association, the Alzheimer’s Society and others have found their niche. The U3A has found its own place by providing opportunities for activities and social contact for both carers and those people who are no longer in full time employment.

After hearing from David all this rather depressing news, we all broke for a refreshing cup of tea and then resumed for a very productive discussion. We had a question and answer session which was followed by an even more interesting discussion. What are the choices for the future? They ranged from euthanasia, dignity in dying, through use of the assets in our homes, increasing taxes to pay for care, the German style of Care in the Community, cross party working, and looking radically at paying for care.

Following an engaging and slightly frightening discussion two things of interest presented themselves to me. I happened to be in Boston Spa the other day and noticed an advertisement for a meeting of the Death Café. I’ve read about Death Cafés, whose objective is ‘to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives. The second thing was the announcement of the completion and opening after 18 years, of the first purpose built Older Women’s Co-Housing development for over 55’s. These two things gave me great hope for the future, particularly as I find myself in my 71st year. The debate on death, provision of care, quality of life is alive and well and it’s important, as David was at great pains to point out, that we all have a part to play in supporting our community and looking after our own health and well-being for as long as possible. Community involvement, enjoyment too, was very evident in the Wetherby & District Christmas Showcase event held at the Engine Shed in Wetherby last week. A great afternoon of entertainment; by the members for the members.

You can find more information about Wetherby & District U3A from our website; www.wetherbyu3a.org.uk

Wishing you a very Happy Christmas and enjoyable New Year.