The ticking time bomb of elderly care costs

There is a postcode lottery in this county on care

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Citizen

OVER the last week, the reality of perhaps this county’s greatest challenge — how are we going to pay for the care of our increasing number of older people – has begun to dawn.

And as I have written before, I regard this challenge as Gloucestershire’s demographic time bomb.

Now, that time bomb really is ticking.

But I am afraid that the government promises when they announced their White Paper on care for the elderly last week seem to be very hollow.

There was a huge shopping list given by the health secretary Andrew Lansley, including getting rid of the postcode lottery on care, but no tangible money.

No good having a great plan with no money.

This is not a political battle. The care of our elderly people is above that.

I am not seeking to make political points, but why is this Government so hesitant about committing itself to footing the bill to implement this programme of care in the White Paper?

In a nutshell, it is cost.

If the Government had adopted the Dilnot report programme when it was published almost a year to the day as the current White Paper on care, it would have cost the Treasury around £1.7billion.

That’s not an awful lot of money when you consider that the Government’s total spending is about £700billion.

But aren’t our older people worth it? Don’t we actually owe it to them to have an old age free from stress about possibly losing their home to pay for care home costs?

Dilnot recommended that £35,000 would cover the cost of care in old age, which would be easily secured through an insurance policy or cash. It would mean that an old person’s home would not be pinched by the state to cover those care home costs.

The prospect of losing your inheritance to the children is a major concern to many older people who believe that this is a duty to their family. They must be able do this when they die.

Under Dilnot, you could insure yourself when you left work, or a lot earlier, so that your home could remain intact for the children.

But what has happened to that plan?

It was warmly welcomed a year ago but nothing done since. It stinks.

No wonder charities and groups representing older people accuse Andrew Lansley of betraying this growing sector of our population now living longer and longer.

To protect people from losing their homes to pay for care would cost about £1.7billion. But that would mean virtually nothing left to do all the things like getting rid of the postcode lottery expounded by Andrew Lansley last week.

A realistic care package for older people would probably cost the government another billion pounds a year meaning that over a comprehensive spending review term, it might cost between £4-5billion extra.

To put it into perspective, the cost of the health service is about £80billion and pensions a similar sum.

Aren’t our older people worth spending just a little more money on despite these austere times?

I talk about the ticking time bomb. But this is not alarmist when you start to look at the figures of the growing number of older people in Gloucestershire, which is a net importer of elderly because they find it an attractive place to live.

Gloucestershire’s current population is 593,500 with 111,500 people over 65 – growing to 190,000 by 2035.

The annual growth in the over-65 population is 2,900 while the population over 85 is 16,600 but growing to 41,600 by 2035.

There are just over 20,000 people who are “customers” for Adult Social Care in the county and that is growing by 800 a year.

The staggering cost of social care in Gloucestershire, including children, is between 55-60 per cent of the total budget of over £400 million.

The prospect of social services eating the county council is not as daft as it sounds.

By 2020, Gloucestershire, under pressure from all these escalating care costs, could end up with virtually no money for all the other services they provide like highways, libraries, trading standards and the fire service.

We all tend to understand highways and potholes, but how many of us understand social care?

Bluntly, the only thing a lot of people probably know is that if I own a house and I have to go into a home, I may have to sell it to pay for that care.

So, what is happening to try and stem these rising costs of looking after older people here? The council are frankly being forced to be mean with their services.

There is a postcode lottery in this county on care – it is unavoidable. Unless more cash is injected into the county from government finally making a decision on Dilnot and the current White Paper plans, the care spending screw will become tighter and tighter.


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