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Care cap deferral - the demographic challenge.

View profile for John Coulson
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IN spite of the UK being one of the world’s richest nations, currently in a period of economic growth, in 2015 the Government deferred introducing its policy to cap the amount people must pay towards the cost of their care in old age.

As one measure of a civilised society is how the weakest are treated, this is very distressing. Deferring introducing the proposed care cap from 2016 to 2020 – the year of the next general election – means it is again being pushed from pillar to post and may never happen.

Care of the elderly is one of the most pressing needs in our society and this delay, described by Labour as “a shameful broken promise”, will result in further financial uncertainty and insecurity, not just for the UK’s ageing population but also for their families who share the responsibility of providing care.

Research shows that one in 10 people who enter the care system end up paying more than £100,000. Currently people with assets above £23,250 do not get any help from local authorities towards their costs and, under the changes, this was to have risen to £118,000. Unsurprisingly, people struggling on a state pension face the greatest hardship.

Care for the elderly and infirm does not just cover being in a residential or nursing home but crucial support at home with daily activities such as washing, dressing, cleaning and shopping which can easily become a significant burden.

Like much of the West, Britain has a rapidly-ageing population as ‘baby boomers’, born during and after the Second World War, approach old age. Concern must focus on their growing need for help with these everyday activities because failure to do so has significant wider affects for society.

Since the creation of The Welfare State and partly due to the economic expansion of the last 70 years, Britain has seen a growth in personal freedom and individuality. Now many of these people prefer to be cared for in their own homes in familiar scenery and among their own possessions  - even though their misplaced faith in The Welfare State has meant that many have not made adequate provision for this.

However instead they can end up  ‘bed-blocking’ in hospital, with severe ramifications for the genuinely ill, because they cannot be safely discharged to live independently, even after a minor procedure, until it becomes a crisis requiring nursing care which the state does not have to fund.

Demographics also mean that older people living independently cannot necessarily depend on help from their family network. Raising the retirement age means that increasing numbers of people will have to work into their late 60s or early 70s and will not be available to care for their parents unless they give up work without a state pension to do so, doubtless adding to their own difficulties in funding care in old age.

While a first thought for the current generation of elderly maybe to contact their local authority, the austerity measures brought in since the banking crisis mean that these are starved of cash. Care work is instead passed on to agencies where well-meaning staff struggle to provide support on zero contracts and the minimum wage with no pay for travel time.

Care of the elderly is one of the biggest challenges facing society and we have all - individuals and politicians - allowed the current unsatisfactory situation to arise. As a result there is an urgent need for creative thinking about how communities manage in providing local services to the elderly and infirm so help can be accessed through overburdened voluntary groups and charities where good work is still being done in difficult circumstances.

This is a ‘perfect storm’ and one which, in spite of the self-congratulation of the Government over the continuing economic growth, does not reflect well on our society.

Why should the elderly, infirm and their families pay this price for Britain’s economic recovery?