Over the last few decades in Sweden, the proportion of older people living in the community who receive public home-help services has decreased, even amongst the oldest old. At the same time, the abilities of older people in the activities of daily living have on average improved. This paper reports a study of the changes between 1988/89 and 2002/03 in the allocation and utilisation of public home-help services and in the support and care needs of older people (aged 65 or more years). The aims were to analyse whether the reduction in the percentage of home-help recipients could be explained by a reduction in needs among the older population, whether public home-help services had been targeted at people with greater needs, and whether informal care had increased. It was confirmed that over the 15 years, even after taking needs factors into account, the likelihood of an older person being a recipient of public home care had declined. Home help had clearly been targeted at more needy individuals. Among older women (aged 80+ years) with limitations in the activities of daily living and who lived alone, the proportion that received home help declined and the proportion that received informal care increased, which suggests that informal care had substituted for formal care. The findings indicate that the Swedish welfare system had reduced its commitment to the support of older people who require less intensive care and that, in effect, the concept of need for public social care support had been redefined.
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