Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm eighty-four?...

One aspect of yesterday's 'Ask the Chancellors' debate which drew my attention in particular was the brief, but heated exchange on personal care for the elderly. As someone in his mid-forties, it is an issue which I expect to exercise me more as old age and infirmity approach.

My parents are part of that generation whose call upon the NHS and local government provided social care is beginning to put genuine pressure on the resources of both. They were told that they would be looked after, and that's what they expected. On the other hand, my nephew and nieces will probably grow up knowing that such provision will not be possible. For those trapped in the middle, the future is a worrying one.

What I found so disappointing was the desperate efforts by Alistair Osborne and George Darling to avoid saying anything on the subject that might upset anyone. Ruling out what George insists on calling a 'death tax' was effectively admitting that it is all too difficult, and yet someone is going to have to face up to the problem eventually, or bankrupt the country.

With an ageing population, the cost of providing care for the elderly, regardless of where, increases, and that cost must either be borne by a working population which is shrinking in relative numbers, or by raising the age whereby one qualifies for financial support, or by reducing the level of care provided by the State. Indeed, I suspect that I will see a combination of all three.

And therefore, the idea of signing over a sum from my estate is actually quite attractive. Effectively, with the flat rate option, one gambles that one will get value out of the deal, a notion no more ludicrous than a contributory pension. Of course, the devil is in the detail, but it was an idea that, as one of a range of options, offered genuine freedom to those wishing to provide for the cost of their care in later life, a government backed equity release scheme if you like.

I very much suspect that the idea will return to haunt Labour and Conservative politicians before too long. It will be interesting to see how they respond when reminded how hasty they were to discard such an option in 2010...

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