Can trees really be more “sexy” than people?

by Peter Watt

Prepare to be bored. This post will probably not particularly interest you. At a push, it may strike you as being earnest, but quite frankly, not very sexy. It doesn’t slag anyone off. It doesn’t condemn the leadership and it doesn’t insult Nick Clegg or a single Tory. It does though raise an important issue of social justice and fairness.

On Monday, just before the appalling revelations about the News of the World, hacking and Milly Dowler broke, and understandably dominated the headlines, the Dilnot report, “Fairer care funding” was published. It is the final report of the commission on funding of care and support, which has spent a year looking at how we can pay for the care of vulnerable adults over the coming years. It is a massively important and well-crafted report that sets out a realistic financial model of how we can pay for the costs of an ageing society in years to come. I have written about this issue before, because the status quo simply cannot continue – the system as it is, is broken.

Labour needs to take a fair bit of responsibility here. After all, we had thirteen years to fix the system and didn’t. We had a number of our own reports and commissions and then we quietly buried their conclusions. You can understand why. It is a brave politician indeed that stands up and says to the public, “You know that you think that the NHS will look after you when you are unable to look after yourself, well actually it won’t and in fact it never has”. But, as research undertaken by Dilnot makes clear, the truth is that people do assume that. And it really isn’t something that you spend a lot of time worrying about when the issue doesn’t affect you.

The cold hard reality is that the costs of paying for social care are, on the whole, borne by those that need the help. So if you need hot meals delivering, help at home, a few days a week at a local day centre or to move into residential care and you have more than £23,250 in assets, then you have to pay. Your savings are used up, your family may have to chip in and your home may be sold so that you can receive the care that you need.

With local councils’ budgets being tight, you have to be pretty infirm to be able to get any help provided at all. If you think that you need help, then your local authority should first carry out an assessment to determine how infirm that you are. This assessment will categorise your needs as being low, moderate, substantial or critical. Generally they will only help if your needs are substantial or critical. You will then be assessed financially and it will be determined how much, if any, of the help you are entitled to will be paid for.

If you need help and live in a home that you own, your assets will clearly exceed £23,250.  And just to bring it life, “moderate need”, for which you are very unlikely to get any help at all, means that you may not be able to get to the shops, bath or shower or get out to meet your family or friends independently.

Suddenly finding that you or a loved one needs help either at home or residential care can be frightening, stressful, emotional and financially catastrophic. Help at home can cost between £10 and £20 per hour. The average cost of a room in a nursing home is £36,000 per year. The bills really do start to rack up quickly.

So back to Dilnot. These are not proposals for the state to pay for everything. The commission accepts that individuals should contribute something from their own assets towards the cost of their care and accommodation. Instead, there is a proposal for a partnership between the state and individuals that removes the uncertainty. Under the proposals, we will each be responsible for meeting some of the costs of our care but the extent of our exposure will be capped at £35,000. The capital limit will be raised from £23,250 to £100,000. After that the state will kick in and pay the rest.

The proposal means an extra £2 billion or so in spending by the state a year, about 0.25% of public spending. And for that we get peace of mind that in our old age we won’t face the fear and uncertainty of not knowing how much or who will pay if we need it. Most people will still pay something towards their care. But for that £2 billion we can ensure that those with modest means will not be unduly penalized following a life of hard work and saving. And we can ensure that the poorest are protected.

It might not be at the sexy end of politics. But it matters. Right now the government is deciding on what to do with the recommendations. To be fair to them; it is a tough call. Like any balanced proposals, there are elements that will both appeal and repel the various strands of political opinion. And that is why we should all be helping to persuade them that this is not about party politics or point scoring. It is bigger than that.

Ed Miliband has promised to enter into all party talks and that is to be hugely welcomed. But we should all be writing and emailing our MPs to say that the government should, after considering and consulting, support and implement the commission’s findings as soon as possible. When there was a proposal to privatise a small proportion of the national forests there was uproar. Hundreds of thousands lobbied their MP. It sent a signal. Well this isn’t about trees; it’s about people. And that same uproar sadly appears lacking.

At the moment the government is promising a white paper by the spring. If the timetable slips, then it will be a sure sign of prolonged delay. Right now people are suffering, frightened and uncertain about their future because of a broken system. This is an opportunity to fix it.

Peter Watt is a former general secretary of the Labour party.

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4 Responses to “Can trees really be more “sexy” than people?”

  1. fred says:

    The sad fact is of course for a long time labour has known about pension crises the debate about care, of course Brown the fruit cake decided that the sick should pay for the care package, by having DLA ended.

    pension his bright idea was to tax the pot.

    I suspect Labour over the next ten or twenty or more years can look back decided which Tory leader it’s need to copy, perhaps thats why labour wants everyone on the DNA data base, they can clone Thatcher.

    My father in law worked down a coal mine, war started he joined up at sixteen and was sent to Burma, he had a chest full of medals like most did, for what he said was keeping his head down and not getting shot. He was bitten by a snake which he hated all snakes afterwords.

    The war ended with him in hospital with the dreaded Malaria, and he had problems with this for the rest of his life.

    He came out of hospital and rehabilitation a year after the war ended, he came home to find work, boy he was unlucky so he moved away from his home and the valleys.

    He found a job down another coal mine, ten years later Malaria showed it’s head again, and he spent many months with breathing problems, back down the pit for a year, he had a simple little cough which turned into bleeding which turned into TB. he had another year out and he was never the same again with his breathing problems getting worse, he was told he had the miners illness which they called Black Lung.

    He then had to go into a nursing home, he would have come to my home but I was seriously ill with MRSA so doctors said nope. He moved into a great nursing home, all his pension was stopped, his DLA ended and he had to pay £45 a week extra.

    So man who never bought his own house ended up paying out of his savings £45 a week, they did give him twenty two pounds pocket money they called it pocket money, out of this he paid Ten pounds for his washing even if he did not have any because his daughter washed his clothes. He had to pay eight pounds for his news papers even though he did not read any. so he had four quid to buy a pint at the pub, but hold on the nursing home decided everyone would put into a pot two pound a week to play Bingo the price would be the money they placed into that pot, so he had two quid a week for fighting a war.

    Labour decided he was so brave they gave him a Burma medal when it arrived by post, he looked at it, and placed it into the bin, he said sixty years to late, and a dam sight to late for him.

    He died eight weeks ago, after a life time of fighting for his Union and what he called his party, he left on his death bed the grand total of sixty pence, the nursing home charged us for the sheets on his bed saying they felt they had to purchase new ones after he died. We had a bill for £250 for sheets.

    But we checked to find out he had paid two months in advance for his room, so they had to pay back £600 which has not yet been paid.

    So I suspect once all the wishy washy back slapping is over we will have people who fought wars and came back to what we are told was a better world due to labour ending up with £2 a week pocket money.

    How sad.

  2. donpaskini says:

    I thought this was a very good article, but what have you done with the Peter Watt who thinks we should adopt Tory spending limits and not campaign against cuts to public services? Surely he would argue that for Labour to call for a £2bn increase in spending is damaging to our economic credibility?

  3. AnneJGP says:

    Peter, congratulations – another superb article on this most “un-sexy” of topics. In his dealings with this issue, Mr Miliband has the opportunity to make a huge impression on the people of this country.

    One contribution Mr Miliband might make here is in encouraging the government to review the issue of national free bus travel for active pensioners. The Prime Minister is trapped by his own previous pledge and knows that Opposition parties will make the most of any recantation. If Mr Miliband could find a way of removing the party politics from the issue, he would be displaying truly statesmanlike qualities.

    My condolences to Fred for your loss and the added distress you have suffered.

  4. Peter Watt says:

    Thanks Anne, and also condolences to Fred. dompaskini – re the adoption of Tory spending limits. I said that that would allow us to define the choices that we would make within those limits. This is a classic case of just that, that is where the debate within Governmnet will be re implementing Dilnot. The fact is that implementing Dilnot is the most cost effective way of providing care in the future IMHO.

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