Britain Ethics Health

The Church Cares About the Unborn, but What About the Elderly?

This weeks Christian Today column – you can get the original here…

The Church cares about the unborn, but what about the elderly?

(Photo: Unsplash/Uncope)

In an average April in England and Wales there are about 8,400 deaths in care homes. This April there were 18,000. But only 8,000 of them included Covid-19 on the death certificate. It is a horrifying statistic. In Scotland the situation is even worse, with up to 60% of Covid-19-related deaths being in care homes. Why has this happened and why does it matter?

This is an important issue not just for the UK but also for the rest of the Western world, where deaths in care homes have been significant. Care homes are particularly dangerous because the close contact of residents increases the risk of infection; carers can spread the infection without proper protection, and the elderly often have underlying diseases which makes them particularly vulnerable. More than one third of Covid deaths in the UK have been of the over 85s (just 2% of the population). Over 60% of those in care homes are over 65.

Now, when I heard all this I was ready to write a wee rant about how care homes are just Granny farms, where ruthless private operators seek to make profits out of families who just want to dump Granny and Granddad. That is a common perception. But it is a caricature – and like most caricatures, whilst it contains a degree of truth, it is largely false. I asked an ‘expert’ – an excellent former care home manager who provided me (and you) with the following helpful information – which although it refers specifically to Scotland, can I am sure be applied elsewhere.

The Advantage of Care Homes

Care homes generally provide far better environments for older people who are unable to stay at home and who do not need the acute medical care that hospitals provide. Sixty-four per cent of residents in care homes in Scotland have some degree of dementia. They are not ‘dumped’. They are in the most suitable environment. In general the care inspectorate has set good standards which are well enforced – unlike hospitals! The staff, though often underpaid, (politicians standing and clapping in front of the cameras does not really make up for that!), generally aim to provide a homely environment. They get to know residents well and so provide a consistency of care.

The big problems, though, are with funding and recruitment. It is noticeable and sad how many churches have pulled out of care home provision – largely for financial reasons. Scottish Care would strongly argue that the government do not pay the true cost of care for state-funded residents. Back in 2010, they were paying £464 a week to private care homes for state-funded residents but £800+ to local authority homes for the same people. There was no evidence of a superior standard of care being given by the local authority homes. There are few local authority homes left now, as they are not considered viable.

Care homes are not Granny farms but they are under resourced and overlooked, and as always there are some private operators who push for the biggest profit margin.

Protect the NHS – leave the elderly

The big issue with Covid is what happened (throughout the UK) when the crisis was about to hit. The NHS in the UK is treated like a religious object of worship. That’s why we have the slogan ‘protect our NHS’. In order to ‘save’ the NHS, older people were removed from hospitals and put into care homes. Some were ‘bed blocking’ and were waiting to be moved anyway. The policy in and of itself was not bad. But the way it was carried out was callous and scandalous.

Elderly people were moved from hospitals, the place where they were most likely to contract Covid, into care homes without being tested. Neither UK nor Scottish governments increased support to care home providers. They were so busy saving our NHS because the emphasis was placed on deaths in hospitals. For several weeks at the beginning of this crisis, deaths in care homes were not even recorded in the Covid figures.

Having ‘saved’ the NHS through lockdown, we now have a high rate of Covid deaths and astronomical economic damage – with the fall out from that yet to really hit. Instead of testing and shielding the vulnerable (the South Korean and Swedish approaches – although the latter too have been hit hard by deaths in care homes and admit they have failed in that) we reduced testing and exposed the most vulnerable to the greatest risk.

It’s easy to be wise after the event. It’s easy to make comments about what should have been done when you don’t have the responsibility for making the call. I have every sympathy with our political leaders who have been faced with this unprecedented situation. But it is also easy to shut our eyes to the injustice and cruelty which does not directly affect us, but does have a significant impact on the weakest and most vulnerable in society.

The Church and the Elderly

The Christian church is rightly concerned about the ‘right to life’ of the youngest members of society, the unborn child. We must be just as concerned about the right to life of the elderly. I write this in a week where my mother has just turned 85. Who knows whether she may yet have 20 years of life to give to her family, church and society? How dare we determine that the elderly are less worthy of protection and life than any other generation?

I hope that out of this whole mess we will take a more biblical attitude towards our elderly people – not least because hopefully one day we will join them.

Consider these verses:

James 1:27 – “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

1 Timothy 5:8 – “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

Leviticus 19:32 – “Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the LORD.”

Isaiah 46:4 – “Even to your old age and gray hairs, I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”

Galatians 2:10 – “All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.” 

Let us ensure that we look after our parents and grandparents. Let us make sure that care homes are adequately resourced. Perhaps the church could think about getting more involved in the business of care? Above all let us honour the Lord by honouring our elderly people, and not regarding them as ‘out of sight out of mind’ or ‘unproductive members of society’. They are blessings, not burdens. May we reflect the attitude of God in all of this.

David Robertson is director of Third Space in Sydney and blogs at

After I published this I came across this excellent article from Iain Macwhirter in The Herald which gives more information about the Care Home disaster.

Planet of the Humans – The Problem with the Green Movement.

The Equality of Death – Article for Premier Christian Magazine


  1. Uncomfortable reading. Like you, I have chosen to move to Australia leaving an octogenarian mother in UK. She keeps going in her own home thanks to the endless care given by my sister, and if she were not able to cope any more, residential care would be the only alternative and mum would be dead within a year – she’d lose the will to live. All very sad, and not a problem that western society had (to any degree) 100 years ago – people didn’t live to extreme old age.

    Several couples I knew very well in UK had each promised their spouses that they would never let them go into care but then couldn’t cope with increasing dementia so had to give up the struggle, feeling horribly guilty for doing so. One of the homes in particular was really a home from home – visiting was a positive experience – whilst another was, sadly, ‘God’s Waiting Room’, not helped by a family who had decided not to visit too often lest mum be reminded of her past. Yes, you’re right that we need to value those who work in this field, particularly since those they care for aren’t always (through no fault of their own) going to show their appreciation for those who care for them. Could we as society and as the church do more? Yes, but it would cost us ….

  2. My mum never wanted to go in to a nursing home, but her health deteriorated so badly that she had no choice. But it was £600 a week!!! I couldn’t believe it. So it was going to eat into all her savings that she worked for all her life & paid taxes on. Then once her life’s saving were gone, they would have demanded she sell her house. So… one evening while visiting her, she sat me down and said, “I’ve been thinking….” To my horror, she explained her life wasn’t worth living, in pain and due to arthritis, couldn’t move, sat in chair all day, then had bed sores on her bottom so they’d put her in bed and turned her over every two hours. She got so bad she couldn’t even reach out for a cup to lift it to her mouth to drink. Couldn’t use knife & fork to eat. Couldn’t go to the toilet by herself. The nurses washed, dressed, fed her etc. So she announced to me that this wasn’t a quality of life, that they wouldn’t let an animal suffer, they’d euthanise it. So…… to my absolute horror she said that she was ready to go and was going to stop eating so that “she could die quicker and not spend mine and brother’s inheritance or the house on her care.” I burst into tears and she said “Dinny greet lass, I’m ready and it’s my time.”
    Sure enough, she did just that – starved herself to death. She died just 4 stone, and of Anorexia.
    It’s heartbreaking that care homes are so expensive that old people {as it can’t just by my mum} are left feeling like they have to starve themselves to death rather than spend their inheritance they want to leave families.
    This is sickening. £600 a week! How can they justify that? And this was in Arbroath, so imagine cities would be even more.


  3. Thank you for your balanced and insightful summary of the “care home crisis” in Scotland. You acknowledge the difficult position politicians were in at the start of the pandemic but, like you, I have no wish to defend our governments’ actions over the last few months. However, I need to quarrel with you over making this a human rights issue (the “right to life” and, by extension, the right to healthcare). Doctors throughout history have always had to prioritise, ration, triage, call it what you will, because medical resources are always, and will always be, limited. I worked in a high-risk surgical specialty with a large emergency workload and almost every day we had to make difficult prioritising decisions. Our decisions were based on such mundane things as: are all the ward beds full?; who can we send home now?; how many ITU beds are free?; can we “make” more beds by calling off-duty nurses in from home; is there a (operating) theatre available?; can it be staffed?; what urgent operation should we cancel to make way for this emergency? And so on.
    To talk of human rights in these situations is singularly unhelpful. It makes not a whit of difference whether everyone, or no-one, has a right to life; or whether everyone, or no-one has a right to healthcare. The decisions have to be made. Doctors tend to make such decisions on the basis of prognosis, that is, who is most likely to benefit from this treatment. Such thinking does indeed discriminate indirectly against older people because, in general, the older you are the worse your prognosis. But I suggest that this is honest and rational and therefore, by implication, Christian. I further suggest that heath care systems should work towards a practice of open and explicit rationing, rather that the fudged, dishonest, who-shouts-loudest rationing we have at present. The Bible nowhere supports the notion that health care is a human right. Some form of rationing is unavoidable, but rights-based thinking stifles the honest debate that needs to be had.

    1. “Rationing” is a function of scarcity – in wartime, it was imposed from outside by an outside enemy: in peacetime, before there was ever a crisis, it was created by deliberate choices and when the crisis came, the rationing was far more savage than it might have needed to be.

      It wasn’t about quasi-religious “saving” of the NHS – what sort of God needs to be saved by human effort? It was about preventing it being overwhelmed early on, collapsing altogether and rendering any organised rationing redundant . It was, and is, about “saving” *people* – and not just those who can pay for their lives, the most brutal rationing of all.

      As to the triaging/culling of the old: the accusations are inevitable after years of the old, sick and disabled being spoken of and treated as a helpless nuisance, often frightening or dangerous, an “unaffordable” burden, etc – and attacks on both State and occupational pensions. In a society that normally valued and honoured the old, accusations of deliberate senecide would find it much harder to gain traction and reasons/excuses for disaster might stand more chance of being believed.

      As it is, there have been some (to say the least) unfortunate turns of phrase from the British Government and its advisers: could you imagine any of them making this speech that Justin Trudeau made to the Canadian House of Commons just before Easter? Or being believed if they did? Nor has he been the only leader to make it clear that some countries, at least, don’t consider their weakest citizens as passengers.

  4. So sad for you Maggie. Some of the care homes in our area are charging £1200 per week – Yes! £1200. So sad that the family home has to be sold.

  5. ‘How dare we determine that the elderly are less worthy of protection and life than any other generation?’
    Who are the ‘we’? A long time ago a friend said that the only ‘human right’ was that people should hear the gospel.

  6. Since moving to Scotland I am working as a social care worker in a council run care home in the county of Angus and have been amazed and humbled by the love and the quality of care my colleagues give to our residents. I particularly wanted to work in a council run care home because although we don’t have posh furnishings (nothing wrong with that!) nevertheless we are very tightly regulated, constantly being given training and support and on my high dependency unit where the residents have advanced dementia the carers are incredibly committed to our residents.

    I don’t see the relatives as having dumped their loved ones! They have reached a stage where they can’t cope any longer at home. As care support workers we do 6 or 8 hour shifts (excluding nights) and have at least 2 or 3 people working together and we need that. It is mentally tiring and demanding and I quite see how one carer could not look after even one of these dear residents on their own at home. People with advanced dementia sleep on average 4 hours a day, and often not at night. Sharing the care with a team and having units of 8 or 10 people living together gives a family feel to the job. I say I now have 3 families, my own family, my church family and my family of carers and residents at work.

    Our care home is free of the Covid 19 virus thus far, thanks largely to a good strong management team at the home, headed up by a manager who has kept a step ahead of the game. She stopped all visitors coming into the home about 10 days before national lockdown, we don scrubs on entry and exit to the home, change masks every 3 hours, have our temperature and the residents’ temperatures taken every day, sanitize all hands before every meal. Anyone coming out of hospital into our care home goes into a separate unit for 14 days quarantine and is tested before joining the rest of us.

    Although it is puzzling to the residents why we can’t have their relatives visiting, we explain it to them, they understand at the time, forget it a few minutes later and get on with whatever activity we’re doing with them until the next time they ask, which may not be for days. We get them to write simple cards to their relatives, they phone up, but they don’t seem to get distressed, they’ve got us. Sometimes they’ll say, “you won’t leave me will you”, and of course we reassure them that we won’t.

    Talking of Christian care homes, there is of course the Pilgrim Friends Society, which I know quite well, having known the trustees from other churches. They are very committed to their work and have a home in Scotland called Strathclyde House, Skelmorlie, west of Glasgow.

  7. The big difference between the unborn and the elderly is that the unborn have no choice, whereas most of the elderly do, in one form or another. I’ve known so many Christian brothers and sisters who have grown old; they become unbearably tired. They plead with their carers – be they family or professionals – to not resuscitate them if they become critically ill because they’re yearning to be with Christ. They prefer the momentary suffering before death to the lingering suffering of their painful, restricted lives which are prolonged by technology and/or chemistry. It’s an agonising situation and each case has to be judged on its own merits. The non-Christian will also become exhausted in old age, but their attitude will usually be different, often preferring to prolong their lives for the sake of their family and valuing every moment of every day, assuming there is nothing to hope for beyond their final breath. Personal wishes, comfort and dignity should be paramount, but to try to formulate and apply the same rigid rules to everyone surely can’t be right.

  8. I have worked in care homes – and personally find them to be orphanages for the elderly. The only difference being – the extortionate charges to the resident. I can’t begin to share the harrowing experience it has been – to the point that I will never do that work again. I left with a lump in my heart – for the loneliness – lack of care – lack of respect – and most of all the lack of love. Such a high turnover of staff and care workers looked down on by senior staff. You can legislate for care standards – but you cannot legislate for love. You do not have time to build relationships – and will be reprimanded if you spend too much time with one resident. With residents who have dementia – there are so many ways this expresses itself. One is curled up in a chair – one is dancing around the place – another is shouting constantly another assaulting other residents because they think they are in their house – there are constant fights that you have to break up. You get kicked – punched and scratched by residents – and the verbal abuse is unbelievable. If it is difficult for someone to look after a relative with dementia in their own home – how is it easy for 3 care staff to look after 25? How is it the answer to place all dementia sufferers in together in one place – where it turns into a madhouse? If you can take the time – you can have a loving, sincere conversation with a dementia sufferer – if you tune in to their conversation – like for example – they think they are preparing their room for their family visiting – you can get involved in that conversation. But you don’t have time. There may be visiting church services – but I have never seen a care home chaplain – perhaps a resident could ask for one – but they don’t usually have the faculties to ask for something that is not provided. Often luxury replaces relationships. But actually love is the luxury they need.
    I once looked after an elderly lady in her own home – and we became great friends. It was a divine appointment – and I had the love of God for her in my heart. We laughed together – chatted – watched TV and it was my joy to give her as much dignity as possible – which is the challenge when providing personal care. When she was finally bedridden – she used to say that she was a burden – and it was then I learned a really valuable lesson – that you don’t have to be able to do anything to be loved. I loved her because I knew her – because she cared about me too – and just because she was her! She had her own unique personality – humour – preferences and interests. There are many things we need to learn throughout life – and one of them is how to be a good old person! We need the elderly to model that to us! She did that for me.
    There is something wrong – when we don’t value the elderly. Granted some are cantankerous – demanding – and horribly difficult. It’s a warning – that what you are now – resembles what you will be then. Another beautiful elderly lady I know – who never had family – is in a care home. She says “God still wants me here – to do the work of prayer”. She can do little else – but all those elderly Christians – can be the powerhouse of prayer for the Church – an underestimated resource – a neglected resource.
    John 19. “When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.”
    I would say to anybody with elderly and infirm parents – unless they need hospitalised – which of course is a different scenario – prepare your home for them. Spend the money on adapting your home to accommodate them – instead of giving it to millionaire care home owners. Get the necessary space and equipment. Get extra help – which is plentiful – to supplement the help you can offer – so that you are not run ragged. Care homes are not necessarily more suitable for elderly and dementia sufferers than their own home – they can fall just as easily in a care home. The only difference is there are locks on the doors so they can’t escape. Why can’t that be done at home?
    I have occasionally seen some who like a care home – because they would prefer that than being home alone – and in my experience this has been men – because often, as far as I can see – their lifestyle is similar to maybe what they were used to. Someone else making and serving their meals – someone else laundering their clothes – and then sitting watching TV or reading a newspaper and keeping up with current affairs. I am not being sexist – just reflecting on traditional roles. If they have their wits -they can take a walk in the garden for a change of scene.
    I could go on – and on but this is only meant to be a comment and not an article. It is a subject close to my heart – and we need to do better! Children who were in orphanages grow up and have a voice – elderly in care homes don’t have a voice! Never will!
    I wouldn’t often think of Holland as being a place which I would look to for answers when it comes to care for the elderly. But I found this to be interesting –

    1. Dear Martha,

      Thank the Lord for your reply. I was beginning to think I had stumbled onto an atheistic website where the love of God was as cold as an arctic wind, where the commands of Christ (who sacrificed his life for us) had been conveniently forgotten, where love, self-sacrifice and self denial were never mentioned. Your comments seemed closest to expressing Christ’s command to love one another to the point of being willing to sacrifice our lives for one another – that’s what true love really is.

      The church is a white-washed tomb – bright and clean on the outside (public image)but full of dead mens bones on the inside – putrid graves of those who call out “Lord! Lord!” yet they will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven because their faith (which is without works) is dead, totally dead. Christ never knew them.

      If we feel guilty about putting our loved ones in professional homes we should listen to our consciences. We ARE guilty. God never once promised that the Christian life would be easy but rather one of denial and sacrifice. Of course it’s hard. It was hard for our parents to look after us as babies and they didn’t put us into care homes because they were tired or skint. They found a way to cope. Most of them sacrificed their own desires and wants, even needs, in order to meet their child’s needs. Perhaps the thing they did wrong in this was that they raised spoiled selfich children to become selfish adults.

      Either we trust God to help us do good, according to his law, or we don’t trust him to be God at all – and we are lost in our sins forever. We would rather spend millions on celebrities, footballers, foreign holidays, new furniture & clothes, expensive technology, phone & TV package contracts, new bigger cars, bigger houses etc than on the loving care of another vulnerable human being made in the image of God – the image that Christ himself took upon himself to save us from the sins of idolatry and selfish pride. We are significantly more concerned about securing the inheritance from our parents than our parents themselves – we love money more than God because we love ourselves more than anything else – that way lies hell.

      We increasingly see the elderly as an economic burden upon society and, since we love oney so much we have to find a solution….so we professionalise their “care” thereby allowing us to make budget cost cuts, resource cuts and staff funding cuts in order to save money money money. We have turned the love and compassion and care of our, so called, loved ones into a business commodity to be transacted as expediently as possible – that’s how we justify the cruelty and even manslaughter of our elderly population. If we neglected and abused our children the same way we do our parents then it would be abuse by neglect or physical abuse or manslaughter. You may say manslaughter is a bit harsh but what is it if our child is severely ill at home and we refuse to call an ambulance to take them to hospital, and they die?? Yet a care home manager can refuse to call and ambulance for an old person, who then dies – what do YOU call that? What do you call it when a doctor puts a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order on a patients file – without either discussing it with the patient nor their family – and so they are left to die when they could live – what gives any human the right to take the life of another? Is that not murder?

      Christians, especially, should not seek to take the life of anyone who bares the image of God – no matter how much suffering is involved – God alone is God – and we should know that and surrender to his sovereign will over all our lives. God’s patience is not limitless. He will send his wrath upon us for our idolatry (self-love). As a commenter pointed out, Jesus Christ, in his moment of greatest agony, still was able to ensure his Mother was taken care off – not in a care home but with a brother/servant (John). John never hesitated because his only love was for Christ expressed in willing obedience – it make you wonder who professing believers are really loving these days – “Away from me you evil-doers, I never knew you” said the LORD. And he cast them into eternal fire.

      Our churches don’t even know what love is anymore. We are too busy trying to get our pals to come and polish the pews – and donate – so we can afford to buy a new roof for our white-washed tomb that we all feel too comfortable living in. If a member of the Body of Christ is too disabled to attend church they are simply forgotten about – out of sight, out of mind, out of heart, deprived of the means of grace (because of traditions of man) and fellowship with the Body.

      Christ warns us that “with the measure you use, it will be measured unto you” – God help us all to repent while our hearts are not yet fully hard. Choose you this day whom you will serve – God or Satan, there is no third way.

      1. Yes, there is a huge problem with elderly care. When the charity the church provided – is taken over by local councils – it eventually comes down to ‘money’. Cost cuts – put more burdens on low paid workers. I would say – most carers are lovely, kind and loving but there is a lot of resentment against the employers and the system. In the end it is the service user (the vulnerable) who suffers. What’s new? When those with power and/or responsibility mess up – the vulnerable suffer. There are not great checks and balances in care homes – an elderly resident is at the mercy of the care worker. If the care worker is merciful and kind – they will be ok – up to a point. But the quality of life is dismal – except for, as I said – those who like that lifestyle and have their wits about them. Most residents hate it. I would say all the care workers I worked with – even the good ones – now believe that euthanasia is kinder! For the amount of money a resident pays – they should expect a round the clock maid at their beck and call. Not a chance! Skimpy service to say the least. Also, many residents are still useful. Even some of those with dementia – and they want to be useful. They can cook with supervision – they can wash dishes – have meaningful helpful conversations – some have great general knowledge – they can pray – give advice. Yet they are given no responsibilities whatsoever – and the promise is that they will be pampered. So often we are painting a 95 year old woman’s nails red! Whether or not she ever even wore nail polish in her life. If there are activities – they are meaningless – like colouring in nursery level pictures. For some it is like being dropped off at nursery – and being frightened and disconcerted – because they don’t know where they are or why? And the doors are locked so they cannot get out – and everything is strange and they don’t know anybody. One woman who was dropped off – was crying into her hands – asking when her daughter was coming back to pick her up and saying “what have I done wrong”? And she got told off regularly because she thought other residents were in her home and she was shouting at them – so she got shouted at. Residents are at the mercy of the care staff – and whereas abused children grow up to tell their story – elderly don’t so nothing changes. We have to be their voice – as Christians – a voice for the voiceless.

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