The new deferment of the bill on growing old comfortably and the absence of any road map on old age throws doubt on the priorities of the government at a time when the sector is suffering from a cruel lack of both means and personnel.
On Tuesday 18th July, on the benches of the French National Assembly, Isabelle Valentin, the member for the Haute-Loire, declared: ” Honourable Minister, what place do you want to keep for the aged in our society ?”
Care establishments under considerable financial strain, crucial lack of personnel both within care homes and within home help services, carers on the verge of exhaustion etc. The situation is ever worsening for the old age sector. Nevertheless, on 18th July, the government announced a new deferment, sine die, for the bill on growing old comfortably, whose debate had already been deferred back in April and was supposed to be rescheduled for this week.
Looking at the treatment of old age in recent years, one can see the sorry story of rejection, of promises not kept, of renouncement.
During the previous term, the Old Age and Autonomy project, announced back in March 2019 following the submission of the” Old Age and Autonomy” report, known as the Libault report, remained elusive up till the end of the term: after being deferred several times, it was finally abandoned.
During his presidential campaign, Emmanuel Macron announced that he wished to create some 50,000 jobs in care homes over the next five years. However, the budget for 2023 included the creation of a mere 3,000 jobs. This figure should have been five times greater in order to meet the five-year target.
In the absence of a bill, the members of the Renaissance party in December 2022 submitted a bill “to establish a society for aging well in France”. This bill, which aims to combat the isolation and ill-treatment of the aged and to ensure their good quality accommodation, included in particular the creation of a professional certification for home carers and the establishment of visiting rights in care homes. During its debate in a public session in April, the government expanded it by including the creation of a “single office” on autonomy in the departments in order to simplify the procedures for those losing their autonomy. Alas, the debate on the bill was interrupted due to a lack of time.
The text was due to be re-examined during an extraordinary session in July but it was scheduled at the very end of the agenda. This clearly shows the low importance afforded to it by the government. At the approach of the parliamentary recess, the debate was finally replaced by that of a bill intended to accelerate the reconstruction of those buildings damaged during the urban violence. No new date has yet been given to consider the text.
In parallel with this bill, the Minister for Solidarity, Jean-Christophe Combe, announced in early April a major “reform” for old age, the details of which were to be revealed at the beginning of June. But as time has passed, the date was put back to the end of June, then “before 14th July”. This major reform has meanwhile been converted into a mere “road-map”. On Tuesday 18th July, during the Government Questions session at the National Assembly, the Minister again stated that he would present the road map before leaving the government two days later.
What signals are given by such successive prevarications and renouncements ? One of the federations of care home directors, the FNADEDA, expressed its exasperation in a press release on 19th July. The AD-PA (Association of Directors for the service of the Aged) regrets that the State leaves ” in no man’s land the aged, professionals and families who have been severely impacted by the effects of French delays, even exacerbated by the COVID pandemic.” (18/07 press release).
However, since 2019, the proposals to undertake a reform on old age are aplenty. As recalled in the final report by the National Council for Refoundation (CNR) on “Growing old comfortably”, the public authorities over the last 4 years have received very numerous proposals through the Libault Report (2019), the El Khomri Report (2019), the Broussy Report (2021), the Vachey Report (2020) as well as the proposals from parliamentary reports and those from the restitution of the work by the CNR.
This throws doubt on the political will opposing the immense challenge of adapting our society to aging, at a time when the number of people over the age of 85 is due to triple by 2050 (Libault report). Nevertheless, the schedule for a bill on the end of life appears, in that case, to be on time, since the Minister, Agnès Firmin Le Bodo, confirmed a few days ago on the “Public Sénat” channel that the bill announced on the end of life should be debated by the 21st September… a statement which clearly shows where the government’s priorities lie.
On leaving the government, on 20th July, the Minister Jean-Christophe Combe reiterated his reservations on the bill in his hand-over speech: “The very suggestion that suffering and vulnerability could no longer be part of life, is to change our relationship with fragility. It risks sending an implicit message, which could lead the vulnerable to self-eradicate.” During his speech, he expressed his regret at not having been able to “convince of the need to go much faster and much stronger in adapting society to aging.”
Alliance VITA is in full agreement with such regret, as are all the professionals in the sector. It is campaigning for a true policy to match the stakes, which needs to be debated urgently to enable our elders to age with dignity.