Gale`s View - 6th July 2011

Iain Duncan Smith`s Centre for Social Justice has described an ageing population experiencing “an epidemic of poverty and loneliness”. That description reflects the plight of some of those in residential and nursing care and some of those experiencing inadequate domiciliary care at the hands of carers who are overstretched, have too little time try to meet the needs of too many clients and who, through no fault of their own, inevitably fail.  “Care in the Community” has become a euphemism for “neglect in the community” and a policy that was designed to support people in their own homes, at their own choice and for as long as physically possible, has on too many occasions degenerated into a recipe for isolation. Too few families enjoy the size of home and have the time and resources to care for their own elderly, particularly when sick, within the family unit. That inevitably means more people in residential provision of some kind.
 
The population of the United Kingdom may be rising at a faster rate than at any time during the past fifty years but at the bottom end that increase is born into a Benefit Class that do not, at present, contribute to the economy.  Add to that advances in medical science that are maintaining people alive if not healthy for twenty, thirty or even forty years into retirement and we have a demographic time bomb that is leading to a toxic demand for pensions and residential care that, at present, the nation cannot afford. Those working are increasingly unable to provide for those who have retired.
 
Those that have to sell modest homes, the product of a hard working life, to pay for retirement care instead of, for example,  grandchildren`s education send out a clear message: there is no value in savings in cash or property  if those who are spendthrift receive all end-of-life services for free while those who have been thrifty lose the accumulated rewards of their labours to pay for the same level of support. If we are not to see the culture of saving and investment and home ownership destroyed completely then we have to find an equation that allows people to leave to their families a reasonable proportion of their assets.
 
Consider, also, the reductions in local government spending and the postcode lottery that is the cost of domiciliary or residential homes and it is inevitable both that standards of some care services are falling as homes cut corners to survive and that some establishments – Southern Cross is the most high profile example but there are many others – hit the financial buffers.
 
A government Commission, chaired by the economist Andrew Dilnot, has published its report this week.  The recommendations for the future financing of old age, through capped personal contributions, through individual retirement care insurance policies, through social services and through the health service will have to be considered and debated thoroughly before proposals for legislation are brought forward. To date, though, successive governments, back to Peter Lilley as John Major`s Secretary of State for Social Services, have tried and failed to produce a formula that allows for high standards of care, fair funding and an incentive for those that are able to do so to not only provide for their own old age but leave a reasonable proportion to hand on to children and grandchildren. It is a complex problem but one that can no longer be left on the back-burner.
 
The Treasury, given the present financial climate, will have grave reservations about any solution that results in greater government spending of any kind but this is a question of priorities.  Unless, however, the grim description by the Centre for Social Justice is to be perpetuated as the elderly sink into still greater poverty and despair we have to come up with the right solution and we have to do so within the lifetime of this parliament. We must not allow this burden of the cost of care for an increasingly ageing population to be borne by a diminishing number of tax-paying wage earners into the future.

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