RURAL England has warned of a “terrifying” crisis growing in care for the elderly living in the North Yorkshire countryside.

A national report by the independent agency says geographical isolation and public-sector austerity is leaving elderly men and women in rural parts of the country with poor access to social care.

The report, Issues Facing Providers of Social Care at Home to Older Residents in Rural England, highlights the acute challenges affecting the rural elderly in terms of home-based social care, related to demographics, service provision and costs. The report looked at the particular problems facing North Yorkshire in its research, which has one of the country’s largest populations of older people. By 2025 the population aged over 60 will rise to 35 per cent of the population.

Nationally, older people make up a significantly higher percentage of the total population in rural areas and more than one in nine rural people currently provide unpaid care. Together, these facts lead the authors to call on Government and service providers to take steps to stave off a worsening situation that risks abandoning vast numbers of vulnerable individuals due to where they live.

The report quotes from Age UK statistics which calculated by 2020/21 public spending for older people’s social care would need to increase by a minimum of £1.65 billion to £9.99 billion to manage the impact of demographic and unit cost pressure alone.

Council budgets are also being squeezed.

The Rural England report stated: “The impacts on individual rural council budgets from the growing demand for funded social care were described by one interviewee as “terrifying”.”

It also described how the sparsity of population presented additional problems in providing care.

Home care staff are typically employed on zero hours contracts, receiving payment only for actual contact time, and while travel costs are reimbursed, the extra time spent travelling to people in rural areas reduced their earning capacity.

This was adding to an already difficult task in recruiting and retaining care staff, which was also affected by a mismatch between the location of carers and the rural locations of clients and lack of career opportunities for those in the profession.

The report has been released just weeks after North Yorkshire County Council sent a cross-party letter to Secretary of State for Health and the Shadow Health Minister, warning of a pending workforce crisis in health and social care in the county.

Rural England says, “scant regard” has been given to the particular circumstances facing rural areas in the NHS Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STP) and the Government needed to take immediate action to address the pressures faced by rural councils and providers.

Margaret Clark CBE, Chair of Rural England’s stakeholder group, said: “This report highlights worrying evidence about the poor provision of, and access to, home-based social care services for elderly individuals in rural England, which have severe consequences for the health and wellbeing of an increasing number of people in rural communities.

“We urgently need government and service providers, at all levels, to work together to find a solution to the delivery of good quality social care in rural areas and to stave off what will otherwise become a crisis situation.

“Those living in rural areas deserve better.”