Launch of care campaign

20 March 2014

Andy Kaye reports on the start of RNIB's social care campaign.

Over the past couple of years we have been served up some pretty gruesome stories about the appalling treatment of older and disabled people, not just in the NHS but in a number of care homes too.

Who can forget hearing about the degrading treatment of young adults with learning disabilities at Winterbourne View? Or the cries of the elderly lady featured on Panorama waiting for a care worker to help her simply get out of bed?

Thankfully these tragic stories are exceptional.

But scratch the surface and it doesn't take all that long to find other shocking examples of disabled people being left isolated and alone. Many thousands of people have not even managed to obtain a care package; they have been found ineligible for council care and support.

800,000 older people find themselves in this terrible position.

RNIB has now learnt there that since 2005/06 there has been a staggering 43 per cent drop in the numbers of blind and partially sighted people getting any form of care service - even the most basic forms of training and equipment to safely get around.

25,000 fewer blind and partially sighted people get social care compared with the situation just eight years ago. The scale of this problem only really makes sense when you consider that's equivalent to the number of people who are certified blind and partially sighted each year being told, "…sorry, there's nothing we can do for you: you are on your own".

Imagine. You lose your sight and you are not even given rehabilitation to learn local routes with a cane.

We are not necessarily talking about people being treated unlawfully, as was the case at Winterbourne View. However, we are talking about people suffering, being left to sink and make do without any council care and support.

Many thousands of blind and partially sighted people are in effect "facing blindness alone". That is why RNIB has produced its new report which Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan, the television presenters have endorsed, and which - with your help - we hope to bring to the media and, crucially, politicians' attention.

The grim prediction at the heart of the report is that in just ten years' time, we could be in the very real position that not a single blind or partially sighted person will receive any council care or support.

The truth is many people who lose their sight are learning how scarce this support is today. The dramatic decline in the help available to blind and partially sighted people is a living reality.

Terri from the North West for example told us that it was inappropriate for her as a mother who was blind to simply be left with a liquid level indicator to make a hot drink.

Why couldn't she get a bit more help to help? All she was left with were some token appliances for her kitchen. Bob cannot believe he received such little support when he first lost his sight. He even had to learn how to use his own cane.

Samantha no longer receives any help to clean her home because her council doesn't believe someone who can't see faces a "life or death" situation. Philip from London meanwhile had an emergency assessment of his care needs after he had a fall at home and fractured his ribs and needed some support from his council. The catch is that he had the assessment in early June. After a few weeks of not hearing anything, he called the social worker several times to find out whether he was going to get any help and when he finally got through the manager said he'd been put on the waiting list. He is still waiting.

We want to put things right. We want to put the care back into social care for people living with sight loss. But we don't have long left. The Government's flagship Care Bill to reform care services in England will soon make its journey through the House of Commons, where we hope MPs will act on our rallying cry: help people who lose their sight re-build their lives.

We have two objectives. One: that everyone who loses their sight should get an offer of rehabilitation to help maximise their independence. And two: even when rehabilitation works, still ensure blind people with ongoing care needs have a fairer chance of getting the help they so badly need.

We need changes to legislation. But we also need you to raise awareness of these issues. With your MP. With your local councillor. With the local newspaper. Take action.

By Andy Kaye