10 October 2007

Extended Family Care

In Labour's first term, the Royal Commission on Long-Term Care called for all personal social care to be made free to the patient. Eight years on, the state only pays for the care of people with assets less than £12,000, with many elderly people having to sell their homes to pay for care.

Given the observations made by David Willetts a month ago about intergenerational solidarity and older people being reluctant to borrow against their accumulated wealth, perhaps it is a good thing that people should need to liquidise some of their assets in retirement. After all, we do not want the state merely to take on more financial responsibility for our care, unnecessarily increasing the burden placed on the tax-payer, do we?

And yet, if we continue to develop our political vision (or "big idea" as the BBC chose to call it this morning) that values the family, perhaps we should welcome government proposals to scrap means-testing for long term care of elderly and disabled people as long overdue. For, the present system is clearly unsustainable, overly-complex and unfair. However, once again, this is not simply a question of economics but also social capital. Figures published last month by the University of Leeds for Carers UK value the unpaid support provided by carers at £87 billion a year — more than the annual total spent on the NHS and more than four times the amount spent on social care services by local authorities each year. This sum represents a vast network of extended family relationships and other friendships that would be lost if the state made any attempt to assume the same responsibility for care.

I remember when my parents moved a few years ago to be closer to my sister and her family, they attempted to arrange for my great-aunt to be moved to a care home nearer to their new home. However, they were told they would be required to pay the difference in the residential care funding provided by the two counties' social services as the county where my aunt had previously paid council tax would be responsible for funding her care but that their level of provision was lower than where my parents wished to move her. As a consequence, rather than living close to her extended family, with all the benefits that would bring such as more frequent visits from her family, my aunt lives two hours from the rest of us.

Given the rising challenge posed by our changing demographics and ageing population, surely government should be encouraging families, even through tax breaks or tax credits, to stay together and should be looking to maximise independence and choice for people being cared for and their carers.


Eric Bird said...

The lack of recognition of the value of caring for an aging and infirm relative is of the same order as the lack of recognition of the value of parents caring for their own pre-school children.
People do it out of love and commitment but it is despised by the the majority because it is not perceived to be "real" work. The sooner this is changed the better!
Child-minders are paid handsomely and "care" workers are generously rewarded for what is often seen as grudging and "health and safety" infested work.