Linda Colling: The sad state of growing old

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IT comes to us all, if we live long enough. Today the prospect of growing old is a daunting one from working until we’re 70, Sainsbury’s supermarket creepily planting spies to spot “hidden carers” and old people at one hospital given a tambourine to bash to call a nurse.

It’s enough to drive you to drink. But oh, no that’s come under the cosh as well. The Royal College of Psychiatrists wants the Government to cut safe drinking levels for the over 65s because of their “growing alcohol and drug misuse.”

What a disgrace and how demeaning this all is. Where is the dignity? Where is the respect? You work all your life to come to this – spies peering into your shopping basket, killjoys poking their noses into policing your favourite tipple and then those tambourines at Cardiff Hospital and a pair of maracas for back up. It would be funny if it wasn’t true. It’s just unbelievable what is happening and all this in National Carers’ Week.

Shocking that every year in Sunderland, millions of pounds in benefits are going unclaimed but I balk at Sainsbury’s well intentioned foray into this field.

Better if they had leaflets and posters pointing people to Sunderland Age UK, which last year recouped over £3 million in unclaimed benefits.

One couple received a staggering £17,000 in backdated pay. They were entitled to severe disablement premium and carers premium, which increased their weekly income by £139 per week. The disablement premium was then backdated to May 1991 and they received that whopping payout.

Then there was an 80-year-old man with dementia and his severely disabled wife who were missing out on £310 a week in Carers Allowances and Attendance Allowances. How many more are there like them? They are just the tip of the iceberg.

Alan Patchett director of Sunderland Age UK told me: “We know that a good 40 per cent of people who are entitled to benefits just aren’t claiming them. Some because they don’t realise and others are too proud and this is money they are entitled to.”

So often the elderly are isolated, don’t go to their GP, don’t have any relation, don’t get out of the house or have any contact with any services. And so they are off everyone’s radar.

The two top benefits that are going unclaimed are council tax credit and pension credit. You don’t need to have a disability to qualify for these.

As Sainsbury’s rolls out nationwide its Government-backed scheme to identify “hidden carers” – people who look after elderly, sick or disabled relations without realising they could be entitled to support – it smacks of Big Brother, with cashiers clocking any unusual shopping habits and primed to discreetly ask customers about their personal circumstances. Discreet in a checkout queue? That’s a contradiction in terms. It’s bound to cause consternation and offence.

Customers deemed in need of help will be put in touch with charities that can provide information on financial and practical help and respite care.

Tell-tale signs include shoppers who have two baskets of groceries and pay for each separately. Pharmacists will also be trained to quiz people who are picking up prescriptions for other people.

Those who say they are caring for someone will be directed to a stand set up in the store by a carers’ charity.

It will make a lot of people uncomfortable and get plenty of backs up, because what’s personal to you is a private matter and not something I’d want to divulge to any woman or man on the checkout.