Dame Judi Dench last night led celebrity support for the Daily Mail’s dementia care campaign.
The Oscar winner said the Mail had added ‘unstoppable momentum’ to the movement to reform social care.
Dame Judi was joined by Downton Abbey creator Lord Fellowes, broadcaster Dame Esther Rantzen and former Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Phillips.
Actor Kevin Whately, who played Lewis in the Inspector Morse series, comedienne Meera Syal, who created Goodness Gracious Me, veteran newsreader Angela Rippon, and Steph Booth, widow of sitcom star Tony Booth, also gave their support.
Dame Judi said she had learned of the horrors of dementia when, in the 2001 film Iris, she portrayed how novelist Iris Murdoch suffered with Alzheimer’s disease.
The Mail has been inundated with support from readers hit by a ‘tax on dementia’ – families have spent £15billion supporting relatives with the condition in the past two years alone.
In that time 770,000 people over 65 have been turned down for care funding by local councils. Many have had to sell their homes to pay for their care – with bills often surpassing £100,000 a year.
Dame Judi, 84, said: ‘I know from playing the role of Iris Murdoch that Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease that not only affects the person diagnosed but their family, friends and colleagues.
‘I’m proud to call myself an Alzheimer’s Society patron because it’s a charity that is constantly pushing for reform to make life better for people who are living with dementia. I’m pleased to see the Mail has stepped up to fight the grave injustice of social care, including supporting Alzheimer’s Society’s call for an NHS dementia fund to address urgent needs now.
‘I feel that there is an unstoppable momentum thanks to the Mail, and that the new prime minister will be held to account if he doesn’t immediately address this mounting social care challenge.’
Lord Fellowes, 69, said: ‘Dementia will certainly affect people we know and love, both relations and friends, and may be something we have to deal with ourselves, rather like cancer.
‘The difference is that if we get cancer, the state will be helpful and supportive, spending limitless sums on research and on our care. The same cannot be said of dementia, at least not yet. The fundamental approach to dementia in this country needs to change, for those who are in its grip now and for the many more who will be.’
Dame Esther, 79, who founded the Silver Line charity which offers friendship and advice to the elderly, said: ‘I welcome this crucial campaign. Something must be done to solve the urgent, growing problem.
‘So many of our Silver Line callers, older and frail themselves, are caring for partners with dementia and are constantly anxious about their safety and welfare.
‘What will happen to them both if their home is snatched from them by the financial demands of residential care?’
Miss Phillips, 76, said: ‘I know many people who have worked hard, saved hard, never been on a holiday, and lived a frugal life, in order to be able to pay for their care. So often their home is then sold to pay for their care while the person in the next bed spent every penny enjoying life and the council pays for their care.’
Mr Whately, 68, said: ‘We’re supposed to live in a fair society but the current system is anything but fair.
‘The 850,000 people who are living with dementia nationwide and their families and friends should be emboldened by the Mail’s campaign – I’m certain social wrongs are about to be put right.’
Mrs Booth, whose husband Tony died with dementia in 2017, said: ‘I was pleased and relieved when the Mail launched its dementia care costs campaign.
‘It’s great to see the Alzheimer’s Society has found a formidable ally in the Mail, uniting to pressure the Government into finally tackling the desperate issue of social care.’
Miss Syal, 55, said: ‘I’ve always felt aggrieved by social injustice in any shape or form which is why I am right behind the Mail’s dementia care costs campaign. As one of my close family members had dementia and plenty of friends’ loved ones are affected by it, I know from personal experience that people put their hearts and souls into caring for relatives who are living with the condition.
‘They deserve a medal for their efforts and yet what they get when they can no longer cope is a slap in the face and they are told they’ve got to spend all their hard-earned money on care and lose their homes to pay the care bills.’
And Miss Rippon, 74, whose mother Edna died with vascular dementia in 2009, said: ‘I came to understand in a very personal way, the trauma and stress that families face when caring for loved ones when this cruel disease enters their lives.
‘With a rapidly ageing population and increasing numbers of people living with dementia, we are hurtling towards a major social care crisis that politicians continue to avoid.
‘It is a crisis that, now the Daily Mail has placed it in the full glare of public awareness, they can no longer ignore.’
The Daily Mail’s dementia campaign was praised in Parliament yesterday as signatures on the petition to end the care costs scandal surged past 160,000.
Pressure is building on Boris Johnson to publish plans to reform the dementia care system early in his tenure as Prime Minister.
The Mail is calling on Mr Johnson to make the issue an urgent priority.
Key to this will be setting up a cross-party group to examine all options for funding dementia care, bringing an end to the political bickering which has driven previous attempts at reform into the long grass.
Speaking during health questions in the Commons yesterday, former Labour minister Ivan Lewis said: ‘I don’t always agree with the Daily Mail but aren’t they right when they say we now need a national dementia fund and an all-party approach to defining the nature and funding of the social care system in this country?
‘Successive governments have failed in this country and older people, disabled people and their families are being let down as a consequence. When will we see some action?’ Health minister Stephen Hammond insisted a green paper on social reform, which has been delayed six times since it was promised in March 2017, would be delivered ‘shortly’.
Veteran Labour MP Dennis Skinner said: ‘Dementia comes in many different forms. My mother had one form and it lasted a number of years, but it finally took hold.
‘My sister went within a short time because she wouldn’t eat at all.’ Mr Hammond replied: ‘I know from personal experience that dementia affects people in different ways. I’m proud to work for a government that is committed to make England the best country in the world for dementia care.’
Meanwhile, support for the Mail’s petition continued to grow.
It was only launched on Saturday and yesterday another 40,000 added their signatures to take the total past 160,000.
The petition was started by Mail reader Sharon Muranyi, 59, who this month sold her 92-year-old father Fred Hickman’s cottage to pay for his dementia care.
Sally Copley, director of policy at the Alzheimer’s Society, which is leading support for the campaign, said: ‘With the Mail now backing our call for a dementia fund, Boris Johnson must make good on his promise to solve the dementia care crisis.’
You can help send a message: Sign our petition change.org/dementiacare
For more information, help and support, please go to Alzheimer’s Society alzheimers.org.uk/fixdementiacare