Judge calls to end separation of elderly couples

Speaking at the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass) conference, Sir James Mundy, president of the family division of the High Court, has criticised the separation of elderly couples when one or both are moved into care homes as ‘inhumane’.

During the speech Mundy urged social workers to apply a ‘common decency test’ and do more to keep couples together.

Mundy warned that separation from a lifelong companion could be fatal: “We do know that people die from what colloquially we call a broken heart. It is very striking. One reads... cases where one spouse, after a 60 or 50-year marriage, has died and the other dies two days later.

"That is not chance or coincidence, I suspect."

The senior family judge called on social workers to focus less on procedures and consider whether separating elderly couples or moving someone from their home was in some cases wrong: “Does it accord with the ordinary concept of humanity, empathy, decency? If it does, all right.

"If it doesn't, you need to go back and ask yourself whether it is justifiable."

Margaret Willcox, president of Adass, argued that social workers worked hard to safeguard the rights of older people and keep them together if that was what they wanted: “There are always complex issues to consider, such as how to make this work where relationships are abusive, or when one person in the couple has needs the other can't cope with.

"Social care frequently involves helping people during some of the most difficult times of their lives and the importance of social workers and social care needs to be more widely recognised."