Should care homes ever make a profit?

The collapse of care home operator Southern Cross, which runs 750 homes across the UK, is a wake-up call for our political masters.

It is not simply the failure of a major business or, indeed, a potential human tragedy of epic proportions.

Once almost every town had a care home run by the local authority.

Here the elderly were looked after close to home, family and friends. Let’s not pretend these establishments were perfect – of course they lacked maintenance and investment, but in many areas, rather than be improved they were swept away in a cynical cost-cutting exercise under the guise of ‘care in the community’.

The process involved some of the most vulnerable people in our society being farmed out to the private sector, with much of the cost being picked up by the taxpayer.

I, for one, doubt that these changes have been for the better. Care workers have remained amongst the most lowly paid, while the homes’ operators have been creaming off the profits.

You have to ask if it is morally or ethically justified to make a profit out of our sick and elderly.

One of the factors which has reportedly led to the demise of Southern Cross is that the company, in one of its former incarnations, sold off the properties it owned and now rents them back from the landlords.

This is a hideously familiar echo of the last Government’s Private Finance Initiative which saw hospitals and schools built by private companies with the public purse then guaranteeing the developers a gold-plated income over decades.

How many millions of pounds of public money is flowing into the bank accounts of major corporations in the name of competition and ‘efficiency’ when that money could be better spent on improving public services? It appears we live in a society which knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

By Scott Freeman