PENSIONERS across Wearside are spending their final years in poverty and debt.
A crisis is facing Sunderland’s OAPs, left crippled by financial problems and soaring care costs.
Many are left with little choice but to sell the family homes they have worked so hard to own.
Latest research shows that a place in a care home can typically cost more than £20,000 a year, well above the average pensioner’s income, and anyone with modest assets faces potentially heavy bills.
Under the current system, care home residents must fund the cost themselves, unless they have less than £23,250 in assets.
If their savings run out, they can be forced to put their property on the market.
Today, Age UK Sunderland, which highlighted the crisis, launched a major campaign to force the Government to reform the care system for older and disabled people so that everyone receives the care they need to “live with respect and dignity”.
The charity claims that successive governments have repeatedly shelved the issue and, with recent budget cuts and a growing older population, the system is becoming increasingly “confusing, unfair and unsustainable”.
Alan Patchett, director of Age UK Sunderland, said: “Urgent reform of the social care system is needed now and we cannot hold off any longer.
“Too many people rely on the care system on a daily basis for it to be sidelined as too ‘difficult’ or ‘costly’ to fix.
“Many of those who need help and support are being badly let down by a system that is at breaking point, while others find themselves forced to sell their homes in order to pay for support they need.”
Mr Patchett said he hoped the Care in Crisis petition would give everyone who feels strongly about the issue the chance to have their voices heard.
It calls on the Government to take urgent action to ensure that everyone who needs care, receives it, and that no-one is forced to sell their home or sacrifice their savings to pay for it.
The charity is also asking ministers to ensure that people are able to plan and prepare for care in advance.
Campaigners aim to collect 100,000 signatures by March 1, when they will deliver the petition to the Government ahead of the planned White Paper on the future of long-term care.
“We need to create a big noise to make sure the Government listens to our concerns and takes action now,” said Mr Patchett. “We want to collect 100,000 signatures, but cannot do it without your support.
“Please help us secure good care for older people now and in the future by signing our Care in Crisis petition.”
Click here, go to www.ageuk.org.uk/careincrisis or call in to the Age UK Sunderland offices at The Bradbury Centre, in Stockton Road, or Age UK charity shops on Blandford Street and Sea Road, Sunderland, to sign the petition..
WHAT YOU SAY...
TODAY, pensioners on Wearside threw their support behind the campaign, which will culminate in a mass lobby of Parliament.
Great-granddad Frank Hind, 84, of Seaburn Dene, said it was vital that ministers moved to address the problem before more OAPs fell into poverty and neglect.
“I left school at 14 on a Friday, started work the following Monday, and from then until I retired there was only a week when I was unemployed,” said the former miner and corporal in the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. “A lot of people my age did exactly the same thing, but, despite everything, they are still struggling.
“They might have put away savings every week of their working lives, but, for many, most of that is swallowed up in payments for care and accommodation.
“What makes it worse, I really can’t see how it will improve in the future.
“All my family are working at the minute, but I really worry for them. What will it be like for them when they get to my age?”
Retired building society manager David Goodfellow, 72, of Fulwell, said: “It is iniquitous that people have to sell their homes and liquidate their savings just to get by, especially when they have been thrifty for most of their lives to attain what they’ve got.”
Retired office administrator Christine Fidgeon, 65, of Witherwack, fears the number of pensioners on the poverty line would continue to grow.
“The Government needs to start looking at the problem,” said the mum-of-two. “It’s been an issue for a long time and it just seems to be getting worse and worse.
“With more and more support agencies having their budgets cut, organisations which many people rely on just to get by, I can’t see how the situation will improve.”