The politics of self-interest in addressing elderly care

By Steve Doughty

PUBLISHED: 20:36, 30 May 2012 | UPDATED: 21:43, 30 May 2012

The cost of looking after old people is almost going to double in the next 20 years, and the number of people who will have to bear the crushing burden of paying for their own care will more than double.

This is what we are told in a report backed by eminently able academic researchers and published by the Local Government Association, the umbrella body of local councils.

It is local councils, of course, which run the bureaucratic organisations currently known as adult social services which are responsible for dishing out the meals on wheels, the bathroom safety fittings, and the caring workers who help wash and dress the vulnerable elderly.

Prediction: The number of older people who will be forced to pay their own care bills will double over the next 20 years

They also pay the care home bills for people who have little money or property of their own.

So they should know.

The sums they come up with are forbidding. An 84 per cent increase in the bill to taxpayers to £26.7 billion by 2030. An extra £79 million for every council concerned. That’s £230 for everyone in the country.

The councils say that taxpayers cannot afford this. Their solution to the terrible and developing problem is therefore for the Government to pay more to help out.

Do you smell a rat here?

Let me take you through a little more of the local government-think which the leaders of our councils expect us to swallow.

‘This could mean discretionary public services such as public toilets, leisure centres and parks coming increasingly under threat as councils are forced to divert funding from other areas to plug the growing black hole in adult social care budgets.’

Support: The Daily Mail has been pushing to improve care for older people in its Dignity For The Elderly campaign

Public toilets? You try finding one in the average town. In most places, public conveniences disappeared in the 1980s, victims of the cuts, we were told. In my local town the most convenient convenience is now a nightclub.

But never mind. Let’s go on. Councillor David Rogers, chair of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: ‘Without urgent reform we are going to see the cost of providing care for the elderly soaking up every last penny of council budgets. In just a generation we are going to get to the point where councils are unable to provide any services at all that are not statutory, and offer little more than care services for the vulnerable.’

Now, as part of the day job, I’ve been talking for years to people who work for local councils and deal with adult social services. What they have been saying, and I have no reason to disbelieve it, is that councils have been ruthlessly stripping care at home from old and frail people since well before the onset of recession brought them to their present period of mild restraint.

You will recollect that helping vulnerable old people in their own homes is recommended by all authorities as superior to residential care homes, and for nearly 20 years government policies have been framed around encouraging it.

This hasn’t stopped councils employing inflexible means tests to ensure that anyone with enough assets to buy an average family car not only gets no help at home, but is denied even advice to tell them how to get it for themselves.

The sickness and disability thresholds which you must reach to get help at home are now in many areas so demanding that if you meet them you are going to be in hospital or a care home already.

This has been done because councils want the money for other things, and because generally councillors and officials reckon if you cut back on helping the old, nobody is going to make much trouble about it.

Unjust: The Coalition must address the callous means test system that makes old people surrender their own homes for a place in a care home

Those other things are of course important services as mentioned by Councillor Rogers, but not quite the ones the LGA describes. The money has to go into vital areas like the carbon reduction policy, communications directors to produce leaflets saying what an improvement it is that the council won’t collect your rubbish any more, and councillors’ allowances.

The claim that the cost of caring for old people will mean no more parks or toilets or swimming pools is what you would expect from an organisation that says taxpayers can’t afford the cost of councils paying for it all, but somehow can if it’s the Government doing the paying.

It is time to start being very, very careful about what we believe when we hear scary warnings about the cost of care for the elderly.

My own view is that the Coalition should do something to ease the unfair and callous means test system that makes old people surrender their own homes for a place in a care home and cuts provident people out of help in their own homes.

But there is an awful lot of self-interest at play here. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between the attitude of conman offering to fix granny’s guttering for £5,000 and the policies of a local council.

It’s the council that uses its bulk-buying power to drive down the cost of the care home places it buys for its poorer elderly, as a result forcing the care home owner to charge your private payer granny extra ‘top-up’ payments that will come to much more than £5,000.

There is an awful lot of money washing about in the state care system and in the bank accounts and the wills of the old. Not everybody who takes an interest in it is disinterested.
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One Response to The politics of self-interest in addressing elderly care

  1. lynn hudson says:

    suggest they send us all off to “Dignity” It will be cheaper and less painless. We are sick of being treated as 2nd class citizens. So much for “Help the Hero’s

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