Sunday, July 03, 2011

Social Care

15 months ago I, along with many other Liberal Democrats round the country, stood on doorsteps answering questions about what we'd do if we became the government in May.  I confess that at the back of my mind was the thought "I wish!  We'll be lucky to be in a position to have some influence on what the new Tory government does".  How wrong could I be.
One of the questions that came up a lot was about funding for long term care of the elderly.  I kept saying that if elected we'd set up an independent comission to look into the best way - we'd listen to representatives from all parts of the "care industry" and then we'd make some decisions.  But I also said that I thought the decisions would be difficult ones because quality care isn't cheap and we have an increasingly aged population.  I felt that some of the answer would have to be that people worked for longer, now that medicine and good nutrition means that most will live longer than their parents did.  Some of it would have to be finding a way of saving over our working lives, whether through taxation or insurance or a combination of the two, and some people wouldn't like the answers that were reached.
This week we will be able to read the Dilnot report in full, though there have been hints over the past week.  The big challenge for the government now is whether the Conservative Chancellor can be brave enough to make the investments that will be needed while the long term changes are coming into force.  Can the Lib Dems in government, and especially Paul Burstow, do enough to ensure that what happens is what Dilnot recommends and not a half way house that does no-one any good.
I've seen at first hand the impact of cost cutting on care homes - staff hours cut, food quality reduced.  I listened to a care home owner on radio who had taken the local council to court after fees were frozen at an uneconomic level and his home was threatened with closure.  He won his case so the local authority now has to pay more, but of course that means that something else somewhere will get less.  These decisions can't be taken in a piecemeal fashion - they've got to be part of a bigger debate.  At the moment we have homes being paid not much more than £400 per week to care for people from the public purse and homes being paid more than £700 per week to care for people from their own purse.  That' s a vast range and we have to ask how much it costs to give people a decent standard of living, with nutritious food freshly cooked and served, a garden to sit out in the fine weather, and someone to talk to when they need it.  And having answered the questions about how much, the big one is "where does it come from?"
One thing's for certain.  By the time I'm that age I'll expect to have to fund a significant part of the cost myself, and that means some careful investment of savings over the next few years.

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