Justice minister: ‘Faith communities look after their elderly better’

Justice minister: ‘Faith communities look after their elderly better’

Former GP Dr Phillip Lee says 'I would rarely meet a Jew, a Muslim or a Hindu' whilst visiting residential homes

Nurse holding elderly patient's hand
Nurse holding elderly patient's hand

A Justice minister and former GP has said Jewish and other faith-based communities look after their elderly far more than the national average, and warned against a creeping culture of “outsourcing the care for our parents”.

Dr Phillip Lee, a Tory MP warned that society was becoming more “selfish” in a speech at a fringe event during the Conservative Party conference last week.

The physician and parliamentary under-secretary of state for victims, youth and family justice said that when he was a practicing GP, he seldom saw the “outsourcing” of care for elderly Jews or others from faith-based communities.

“When I used to do [GP] visits, I would go into residential nursing homes and I would rarely meet a Jew, a Muslim or a Hindu,” he said.

“It’s uncomfortable for me. But in those communities it’s a responsibility that they look after their own; that they care for each other at different stages of our lives. And we don’t do that. We are outsourcing the care of our parents. Why have we gone down that path – is it because we have become a bit selfish?”

 Dr Phillip Lee
Dr Phillip Lee

Baroness Ros Altmann, a former pensions minister who once ran Saga Group, said she was interested in Lee’s comments, “because I have often thought how fortunate we are as a Jewish community to have customs and traditions that generally involve close family ties”.

She said: “Religious ties strengthen family ties and our culture does revolve around community, family and regular family and friend gatherings… Jewish older family members often have more support than the average around the UK.”

Altmann argued that “in general, families who are religiously observant, from other religions not just Judaism, do tend to support older relatives better than average” but said that Jewish charities were a factor as well.

“You have to pay tribute to the marvellous work that our Jewish charities are doing in caring for community members. We have outstanding care homes, widespread support for older members within our shuls, and widespread generous financial support and volunteering for poorer, frail or disabled community members.”

She added: “The Torah directly requires us to care for others and I believe that is a core component of Jewish thinking for many of us.”

Neil Taylor, Jewish Care’s director of care and community services, said: “We are a caring community and this is clearly evident when you look at the tremendous support the community provides each other and the support it provides organisations such as ours. We have an infrastructure we should be proud of and care services that those outside of the community can only wish for.”

He added: “Dr Lee’s comments imply that those who seek professional help for their parents or grandparents aren’t caring for them. So many people come to us feeling they have failed their family members as they are struggling to care for them. Families are trying to juggle care for their children at the same time as their parents or grandparents. The truth is with people living longer they are more likely to have complex care needs.”

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