If one asks the average British citizen on the street, “Are there wardens to help the elderly people in Sheltered Housing?” the answer is invariably, “Of course there are.” Some add, “If there were no wardens, it wouldn’t be Sheltered, would it?”
It comes as a huge surprise to them to be told that due to disjointed and counterproductive bureaucratic “cost-cutting” policy changes over the past ten years (under both the Labour and Coalition governments), many elderly and vulnerable people in “Sheltered” housing have been simply left to fend for themselves for up to 158 hours of every week (or even weeks on end).
The results are predictably devastating, not only for the residents themselves, but also for the NHS and the Emergency Services, which must try to pick up the pieces. Imagine the frustration of a paramedic who is stuck outside a locked security door at 3 AM, unable to reach the casualty lying on the floor of her flat because there is no warden on site to open the door. Imagine the futility of a doctor who must prescribe anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications to many of his patients in the full knowledge that what they are actually suffering from is the desolation of intense loneliness and abandonment.
Imagine broken-down lifts which trap disabled residents on the upper floors without any way of accessing the outside world. Imagine icy car-parks left uncleared in the winter, so that an elderly resident who tried to venture forth in search of food for himself and his neighbours suffered a nasty fall and shattered his elbow. Imagine an elderly lady who was forced to climb onto a chair to try to change her own lightbulb (because she didn’t have the £50 she would have been charged for this service) and suffered massive fractures when the chair tipped over. Imagine two eighty-seven-year-olds going into a burning flat to rescue their neighbour (and her cat) when the firefighters were unable to get into the building. Imagine a resident found by a visitor lying dead in the foetal position, desperately clinging to a pull-cord that connected to nothing because the system had been down for days.
[All of these incidents, and many others of similar severity, have been reported and confirmed by Sheltered Housing UK during their research into the conditions faced by the residents.]
The short-sighted “cost-cutting” policies created in an anonymous bureaucratic think-tank have thus led not only to life-threatening dangers and preventable deaths for the elderly and vulnerable residents, but also to massive inefficiency and wastage, the expenses of which must be borne (without their awareness) by the taxpayers. The only genuine cost-cuttings are those enjoyed by the landlords, who no longer have to pay the staff who used to make Sheltered Housing a safe and secure environment for their tenants.
Having thus externalised their costs to the taxpayers, the Housing Associations are routinely reporting ever-growing assets in the hundreds of millions of pounds; their CEOs happily take home salaries in the six figures. Equally advantageous to these huge conglomerate housing corporations is that they are allowed to register as Charities and thus take significant tax cuts. Small wonder then that they turn a deaf ear when the residents have the temerity to complain that the promises made to them when they moved into Sheltered Housing have been broken.
Considerably more surprising is the fact that the Government also turns a deaf ear to the residents’ concerns. In the infamously overbearing “nanny-state” culture which regulates every aspect of our Health and Safety, it is an unfathomable mystery why there are no measures in place to ensure the security and well-being of vulnerable elderly people in “Sheltered” Housing.
Every letter to the Department of Communities and Local Government is answered (after a long delay) with a form letter saying that this is a matter for the local authorities; the local authorities’ standard reply is that Central Government spending policies tie their hands. In effect, the Localism Act (2011) is simply another term for the Abnegation of Responsibility Act.
Under that Act, MPs were supposed to assume a far greater role in protecting their most vulnerable constituents. Yet the majority of residents have found that they get no effective response from their MP at all. As one put it, “I might just as well have written to Mickey Mouse.” There are few vocal MPs who have expressed their concern in Parliamentary debate, but no one has introduced a Bill to ensure that Sheltered Housing residents are properly protected. Even the MPs who are also doctors (who ought to be keenly aware of the huge medical costs of loneliness and isolation) have been blandly offhand their response.
This is power-politics at its most effective: if those in authority ignore a complaint for long enough (which requires no expenditure of energy at all), the complainants become de-humanised and disempowered. They are made to feel invisible, insignificant, and profoundly frustrated by their ineffectiveness. They will then presumably simply give up and go away and thus be rendered no longer troublesome. Then the Housing Associations are free to impose any policy changes they wish (sometimes accompanied by farcically meaningless “consultation exercises”) without fear of any effective resistance.
Ineffective Regulation, Lack of Standards
The HCA Regulatory Framework, which is ostensibly intended to ensure that the residents are empowered and actively involved in the decisions which impact so heavily on their lives, is in fact just a case of “What they don’t know won’t help them.” Very few residents have any idea that there is a Regulatory Framework in place at all, and the great majority are too intimidated, too tired, too docile, or too confused to put up any opposition.
In the few cases where they have formed an effective Residents’ Association or found a committed advocate to fight their corner, the benighted policy of warden withdrawal has actually been reversed. But this leads to glaring discrepancies between one Sheltered Housing scheme and another; in one location residents may enjoy the presence of a kind and supportive warden, whereas in another scheme only a few miles away they are left without cover for days on end.
Surely there should be a universal Standard which all Sheltered Housing residents can count on to ensure that the conditions of their tenancy remain consistent and dependable. But the British Standards Institute Committee on Sheltered Housing steadfastly resisted any attempt to impose a common Standard: the industry is thus allowed to continue with the laissez-faire policy of self-regulation based on unspecified codes of “best practice”.
Effects of the Policy Changes
Dr. S. Monick, who has lived in a Sheltered Housing scheme in Sutton for 15 years, writes that the very nature of the caring, supportive atmosphere that used to be the ideal in such schemes has been whittled away to nothingness: first, the dedicated team of familiar and comforting carers has been replaced with an ever-changing array of unknown and distant agency staff; second, the term “warden” is not even in use any more, having been replaced by a “Supported Living Officer” who divides her working time in “floating” between three different schemes.
The third point raised by Dr. Monick is the most insidious of all: flats in formerly “Sheltered” Housing are now being routinely allocated to people whose needs are entirely inconsistent with those of the elderly and vulnerable residents who moved in seeking security and peace of mind.
Note that his warden is now called a “Supported Living Officer” – in many schemes, the term “Sheltered” Housing has been similarly changed to “Supported” Housing (again, without any prior notification or consultation with the residents). This change reflects the fact that the elderly residents of Sheltered Housing were lumped in together with a variety of other “client groups” under the Supporting People programme, and the funds available for the support of the elderly were then siphoned away to assist drug addicts, recovering alcoholics, and people with mental health problems.
While the elderly residents of Sheltered Housing are perfectly well aware that such groups do need assistance, it is profoundly unjust that they should be robbed of their security on that account. Most threatening of all, it now appears that the bureaucratic policy-makers who decided to divert the funding for the elderly to these other client groups have followed on by deciding that they should actually be housed in the schemes that were originally intended to keep the elderly safe (hence the name change from “Sheltered” to “Supported”).
Thus, the residents now find that their new neighbours are prone to varying degrees of wildly unpredictable and anti-social behaviour, Being frightened by this is not simply an indication of narrow-mindedness on their part: it represents a genuine danger which has transformed many formerly “Sheltered” Housing schemes into nightmare worlds where all the residents remain locked in their flats for fear of what might happen to them if they venture forth into the corridor.
In one scheme, a new tenant arrived who was well known to have a documented history of mental health problems, including violence towards women. The residents’ objections were ignored, and he was not removed until after he had pinned a woman against the wall with his hand around her throat. Similar reports have come in from schemes throughout the country.
It is clearly time for some very serious questions to be asked about the policy changes that were put into place without the residents’ consent. Was any Risk Assessment carried out before these changes were imposed? How can it be that there are strict Health and Safety regulations controlling every industry in the country except the one that most directly impacts upon the well-being of elderly and vulnerable residents?
Effect on the Housing Market
The knock-on effects of the present shambles in “Sheltered” Housing have had a profound impact upon the housing market as well. When Sheltered Housing fulfilled its stated promise of providing an age-appropriate social life and assistance “with any emergency, large or small,” it offered a strong incentive for the elderly to downsize from properties that they could no longer manage.
Now that the word is out among the close-knit elderly community that “Sheltered” Housing no longer has anything to offer except isolation, loneliness, and fear, it is not regarded as a viable option any longer, and elderly people are choosing to remain in their own homes instead.
Having thus caused a major blockage in the flow of the housing market, the Government has now decided to punish those who fail to downsize by imposing a bedroom tax upon them. Would it not have been more sensible to keep the system working properly in the first place?
The Lynchpin Removed; The System Broken
Committed and caring wardens were the central lynchpin of Sheltered Housing, the critical primary-response presence who ensured the residents’ safety and well-being. Withdrawing the wardens has had just as devastating an effect on Sheltered Housing as the removal of the Matrons from the hospitals – a move that had to be reversed when the wards fell into a shambles of disorder.
When will the bureaucratic “think-tanks” actually do some thinking? When will they cast off their myopic “cost-cutting” blinkers and see that a happy, healthy society includes people of all ages? The elderly are not shirkers or pariahs; they should be honoured and respected for the lifelong contributions which they made to our society. Above all, they have an basic human right to live in security and peace of mind – which Sheltered Housing used to provide and should do again.
SMALL donation on your mobile phone: simply text 70070 and type in WISH17 with the amount you'd like to contribute. (Lots of small donations mean that LOTS of people care!) Or if you prefer, you may make a secure contribution via Paypal to WISH17@gmail.com or by cheque to sheltered housing uk the little house marldon paignton devon Tq3 isl
In Devon, the Western Morning News reported the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the death of Mrs. Carol Kelly of Gainsborough Court, Exeter, who was found by her sister after apparently lying dead on the floor for up to four days.
Mr. Ben Bradshaw, MP, said, “I am absolutely horrified by this death and the length of time it took to find Mrs. Kelly. I expect Guinness Care and Support to respond urgently to the concerns of the residents and explain why Mrs. Kelly was left lying dead in her flat for so long in sheltered accommodation and to address the residents’ concerns about what they see as a significant deterioration in the level of support provided.”
Meanwhile, in Lincolnshire, Mr. John Hayes, MP, pledged his full support for the residents of Lime Court, Spalding, who are threatened with cuts to their warden cover. http://www.spaldingtoday.co.uk/news/latest-news/mp-backs-older-people-s-fight-to-keep-wardens-1-5363255
We urge both these MPs to join with their concerned colleagues in passing a Private Members Bill to ensure the establishment of a universal and enforceable Standard which will guarantee the security and well-being of all sheltered housing residents throughout the country.
Article sent by Mr. Andrew Morrison, whose mother lives in Sheltered Housing:
In 2008 a meeting of residents of the sheltered housing scheme at Lammas Leas were told by the operations director of Acis, Mr.Paul Woollam, that the onsite wardens were to replaced by a form of floating support. Furthermore they were told the decision “was set in stone and they would be gone by the end of the year”. This news was met with despair by the residents and caused a great deal of unrest with the wardens themselves.
The residents rallied together and at a later meeting it was decided that this would not be accepted and a committee was set up to fight this decision. Representations were made to the residents at other schemes in Gainsborough, Saxilby, Caistor, Bardney and Middle Rasen.
Meetings were held in Churches and halls, with buses being used to bring in the concerned residents. Local clergy, doctors, concerned family members, local councillors and members of the various support services such as Aged Concern all added their voices to the horror at this proposal to dismantle a system that had served our communities well for nearly forty years.
Meetings were set up with officers at Lincolnshire County Council, with Mr. Tony McGinty playing an active part and being instrumental in keeping the dialogue going. Over the next four years numerous exchanges were made with the various councillors and presentations were made at council meetings.
The position of the residents was that warden based service was sound in that it has proved its worth over many years. It has enabled so many people to live in their own homes when, without that help and security, many people would have to be moved from sheltered care into a residential home – not only a dreadful position for someone in need of a little support and security but also a costly drain on the resources of the county when one looks at the bigger picture.
During our discussions it became clear that this valuable service could be utilised by others within the geographic area of the warden’s base. As the warden had to be sited somewhere, why not build the service from an area of known demand and expand the service into the community from that point? The opposing argument put by Acis was called floating support which, as the name implied, was the taking of the warden from a base of known users and servicing the service users from a place unknown, with all of the additional transport costs and wasted travelling time to reconcile, in addition to the loss of security that is one of the core assets that the onsite warden is able to give to the residents of Sheltered Housing.
The other major concern of the residents was that once the wardens were removed from the estates then the formal warden support system was irreversibly compromised with little or no safeguards being adequate to maintain the future integrity of this invaluable system.
Now nearly fours years later after a lot of heartache and worry, the residents are able to relax in the knowledge that the onsite wardens that they cherish and value to help them cope with the day to day issues of life are now considered a valuable asset which Lincolnshire County Council have no plans to change.
On behalf of the campaigners I would very much like to thank those members of Lincolnshire County Council and Town councillors who have supported our position. Finally, a big thank you to all those members within the community whose patience, hard work and commitment have never wavered during these last four years as they have battled for those within our community that we felt were being unjustly treated at a time in life when they are at the most vulnerable.
On Saturday, 18 May, Robert Davidson, age 70, and Anne Ludlow, age 62, will be setting out from Totnes, Devon, to ride to London on their much-beloved Kalkhoff bikes. They estimate the total distance will be 250 miles, as they must take circuitous routes to sneak up on Bristol from the rear – there they can pick up a Sustrans cycle trail all the rest of the way to London.
They are undertaking this challenge on behalf of all people everywhere who are older than they used to be, in the firm belief that an increase in your age should not mean a decrease in your rights – above all, your right to freedom, fulfilment, and fun.
All sponsorship money raised for this ride will go to the national charity Sheltered Housing UK (Reg. No. 1137806), which provides Support, Consultation, and Advocacy to residents of Sheltered Housing throughout the country, many of whom have lost their wardens and now have no one to give them the support and happy social lives they used to enjoy.
Neglect and isolation are silent killers, adding a heavy burden to the already over-stressed NHS and Emergency Services (endangering lives and needlessly soaking money out of the taxpayers’ pockets).
Anne and Robert don’t think it has to be this way – what could be wiser than the old adage “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”? With happy, vibrant lives and assistance when it is needed, who says that old age has to be a time of misery and loneliness?
And so they have named their crusade “WISH” – “Wardens In Sheltered Housing.”
They plan to hold a send-off party in Totnes at 10 AM on Saturday 18 May, which will be attended by MP Dr. Sarah Wollaston, Cllr. David Hosburgh, Cllr. Lionel Harper (“Champion of the Elderly”), and Mayor Pruw Boswell.
When they arrive in London on 27 May (Bank Holiday Monday), Anne and Robert will hold a flashmob in Old Palace Yard, just opposite the Houses of Parliament, celebrating the right of elderly people everywhere to enjoy happy and secure lives. It will feature great songs from the past, culminating in the song “Those Were the Days, My Friend.” Please mark your calendar and join us if you can – all are welcome!
If you agree with Anne and Robert that the generations who protected and supported us when we were young should now receive protection and support in return, please make a SMALL donation on your mobile phone: simply text 70070 and type in WISH17 with the amount you’d like to contribute. (Lots of small donations mean that LOTS of people care!) Or if you prefer, you may make a secure contribution via Paypal to WISH17@gmail.com.
Oh, and if you pass Anne and Robert on the road, please wave if you love your Mum! (or Dad or Nan or Grandpa or great old Uncle Albert).
And please pass wide and slow (just in case we wobble a little bit).
“As you are now, so once were we . . . as we are now, so you shall be.”
The purpose of Sheltered Housing is to provide security for the elderly and vulnerable residents. Abandonment and neglect are UNACCEPTABLE.
Our major project for this year (with many thanks to the Vodaphone World of Difference Award and Age-UK for their support) has been to visit as many Sheltered Housing schemes as we can, to talk personally with individuals and small groups of residents about the conditions they have been experiencing since the withdrawal of on-site wardens.
The results may be read on the page “The Cry of the Silent Voice” on this website, or go to the following link: http://worldofdifference.vodafone.co.uk/blogs/anne-ludlow/the-cry-of-the-silent-voice-13/
This site is dedicated with deepest admiration to Mr. Vernon Yarker, who served his country in both the Army and the Air Force. After he retired, he moved into Sheltered Housing, expecting (like all other Sheltered Housing residents) that there would be someone on hand to help in case of any emergencies. When they began to take the wardens away, he stood up as a man of courage to uphold the rights of Sheltered Housing residents throughout the country. Though he has now had to retire due to ill health, his spirit lives on in the charity he founded, Sheltered Housing UK. The residents of Sheltered Housing should NOT have to live in fear, and we will do everything in our power to give them support, consultation, and advocacy, so that their voice can be heard at last.
This site is also dedicated with equal admiration to three very brave women. On a cold, dank December day, Jill (aged 93), Sarah (wheelchair-bound with cerebral palsy), and Maria (wheelchair bound with spinal cancer) journeyed by train to London to present the 15,000+ signatures which they had collected, calling for the return of warden cover to Sheltered Housing. They led a rally and march (accompanied by a lone piper) to Downing Street to highlight the plight of all those who couldn’t travel but are suffering equally from the effects of isolation, abandonment, and despair.
Their courage will not be forgotten – their battle will not be abandoned.
SMALL donation on your mobile phone: simply text 70070 and type in WISH17 with the amount you’d like to contribute. (Lots of small donations mean that LOTS of people care!) Or if you prefer, you may make a secure contribution via Paypal to WISH17@gmail.com or by cheque to shelteredhousinguk the little house marldon paignton devon Tq3 isl
We would like to welcome you to our new Sheltered Housing UK website. Many thanks to the Allen Lane Foundation for their generous support in this project, and to David Dunlop of D2Graphics for his kind assistance.