There is an NHS advertisement orbiting social media at present. It features an image of a high-heeled shoe and a tube of red lipstick next to a picture of a baby’s dummy with the question “Would you give up this? For this?” The ad continues: “You can still get Emergency Contraception up to five days (120 hours) after unprotected sex. And it’s FREE.”
Walsall Integrated Sexual Health Services has been kind enough to lay on a male equivalent as well, with the same questions next to a video game controller and a dummy, carrying the warning: “Bware [sic] da baby trap – use a condom.”
Do be careful then, gents. There’s probably a baby right now, lurking behind your TV, just waiting to pounce and steal your video games.
As every parent knows, the thing about babies is that they grow up. The sleep deprivation and the lack of freedom will come to an end relatively quickly. You will always love your children to death but as they become increasingly independent, so will you and that’s a relief.
Spare a thought then for the parents whose children never advance and who depend on their mum and dad for the rest of their lives. Every time I look at my toddler developing at the speed of light and mournfully think, “I never want you to grow up”, I then remember a married couple I know and tell myself to shut up.
This couple’s morning starts every day, weekday or weekend, around 7am. The mother’s first task is to change, wash and dress her 27-year-old daughter, while the husband’s is to prepare their daughter’s breakfast and anti-epileptic drugs. Their daughter is heavy, surprisingly strong at times and uncooperative, and so the process is challenging – especially pulling on her leggings at the very end, as she doesn’t have the physical or mental capacity to make it any easier for them. Once she is dressed, they lift her together and wheel her into the lounge where she is fed Weetabix, and her drugs and freshly squeezed orange juice are administered through a nasogastric tube.
Her teeth are brushed, her face and hands washed and various creams are applied to protect her skin. When evening comes, the couple repeat a similar process: meticulously measuring and administrating drugs, feeding their daughter dinner, lifting her into the shower for washing, pyjamas, prayers and bedtime.
These people are my parents. They are 65 years old and for a time at least they had just one night’s respite per week, one week’s annual holiday and the occasional weekend every few months. But earlier this year, they were bluntly informed that their respite care would be slashed by a third. In practice this means that they must forfeit all weekend support and will no longer have an annual holiday.
My mother and father have appealed against this decision and lost, and in the meantime struggled to find a sympathetic ear. One individual, endowed with so little compassion that she makes Katie Hopkins look like Mother Teresa, told my father that if Anna had the ability to talk she would say that she wanted to spend less time in respite care anyway. I wonder if this genius appreciates that, first of all, respite care is for the benefit of carers rather than the cared-for, and also, if carers don’t receive respite, then they will become so burned out and demoralised that the chances of their loved ones being sent into full-time care will increase. I’m sure that those who depend on care would prefer occasional visits to residential homes than moving into them permanently.
Politicians are too terrified to grasp this problem. One only has to revisit last year’s election to appreciate that the issue of health and social care is politically toxic. But the Government must be brave and do more to incentivise people to care for loved ones at home for as long as they feel able to. When I consider the level of detailed care required for my own sister, it’s clear that this would cost the state eye-watering amounts on a daily basis. By cutting respite care, the state is not biting the hands that feed it; it is chewing them off and then spitting them out.
This contempt towards carers is all the more baffling when we consider that a recent report from the University of Newcastle predicted that the number of 65-year-olds needing round-the-clock care would rise by a third. The number of over-85s who will need help throughout the day with basic necessities such as dressing, washing and going to the toilet is expected to almost double by 2035.
What does this mean? That many of us, and the generations after us, are carers in waiting and so it is in all our interests to ensure that the desperate need for respite provision is recognised. Incentivising care from home is the only long-term solution to address a problem which one day might be yours – if it isn’t already.
Meanwhile, the NHS is sponsoring ads insinuating that babies are far too burdensome for party-loving young people to bear. If we consider the burden of care awaiting current and future generations, looking after a baby is a stroll in the park in comparison.