Care for the elderly, but who cares?

Posted on: 23 February 2010 by Gareth Hargreaves

Providing care and dignified living standards for Britain's increasing number of elderly is too important an issue to ignore – the crisis is with us now and it needs sorting once and for all.

Have you noticed the recent debate around that old thorny issue of ‘Care for the Elderly’?

I may be a cynic, but it seems to me this topic gets dragged out around every election and suddenly all the parties have a view; a new plan; a ‘brave’ new initiative; 'The' solution! The election comes and goes along with interest in care issues; there is no solution just a good old patch up and the carers (both paid and unpaid) stumble on to the next opportunity of awareness.

This is a very current issue and it is not going to go away – it is going to get worse. Why is no political party prepared to grasp the nettle of care and how to pay for it. The answer is simple – there is no solution that we can afford as a nation. The numbers are just too big and would swamp any government’s coffers.

Scotland pays for all care irrespective of your income or assets. But after only a few years they are already finding that it is not a policy that is sustainable. Within a couple of years they are going to have modified the eligibility criteria to make it affordable to the tax payer.

For many years I have been baffled why someone has not matched the desire to work by our older population with the need for carers that genuinely care and have the natural skills to help a dependent older person. This would fill the skill gap and be a step in the right direction. For a start this would help ease the situation of the hundreds of thousands of unpaid carers in families throughout the land. It might stop the ignominy of thousands of people who are cared for by younger members of the family – many of whom are children. Before we preach to other countries about child labour we should get our own house in order.

Accepting that there is no shortage of hands to do the work the big challenge is how to pay for it. One way is to make it free for everyone who needs care and raise taxes to pay for it – or better still reduce government spending and waste. Don’t like that? Then levy a consumer tax on tobacco, alcohol and foods that have high levels of fat in them. A lot of care needs are caused by these products so let those that use them contribute towards their future care costs as they use them.

An added plus of this strategy would be to reduce NHS costs at the same time! You don’t like that solution? Then try this for size! Everybody gets free care when they need it, but once they have died their estate reimburses the cost on a sliding scale dependent on the size of the estate of the deceased. This way the really needy pay nothing and the very rich pay a lot – seems fair to me. There are plenty of actuaries and accountants that could work out such a scheme and make it fair. This way the users pay for what they use. The cost of those unable to pay anything would be paid out of taxes – exactly as it is now.

This is too important an issue to let it drag on for another government term of five years – the crisis is with us now and it needs sorting once and for all.

To put this in place will require a strong government with a strong leader and the determination to get it done. A touch of the Barak Obama spirit  is needed - Yes we can!

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