Loanna Morrison runs a company organising apprenticeship fairs. She was the Conservative candidate for Bermondsey and Old Southwark at the 2010 General Election.
If we are lucky, we will become old and perhaps alas, also frail and possibly suffer from an illness that requires constant ‘care’. Theresa May Has promised to sort out social care – but no one quite knows what that means.
We need to embrace that reality of care in old age now. We need to admit that actually, no matter how old we are, we will remain the individuals that we were, requiring dignity, love, concern, stimulation, attention and all the things we take for granted when we are young.
The people to supply these should be the people we spent that life taking care of (okay, some of us are brought up by the state, but majority aren’t).
We therefore need to shift our focus to transferring payment for care provision from society (wage-earning strangers) to members of the family, thus enabling them to properly provide for elderly relatives. We get incentives from government to care for our children, so why not our elderly?
Each generation should recognise and accept this responsibility. Family members are the people who in most circumstances can supply tenderness, dignity, memories, and alleviate loneliness. When we are old, we will find little of this in the care of society – unless we can afford to pay a great deal. Enabling our families to care reduces that necessity except in extreme circumstances.
Why are governments more willing to pay strangers, rather than family members, to care for us in old age? So many horror stories have been emerging recently about the dreadful treatment meted out to elderly family members in ‘care homes’. None of us want to dread our old age.
Some will argue not all families are nice, but many already bear the burden of taking care of ageing parents or relatives. Therefore resources and vigilance are still better spent inside the family. It is unfair to differentiate between the value of family care and social care.
- Family carers save the economy £132 billion per year, an average of £19,336 per carer.
- Over 1.3 million people provide over 50 hours of care per week.
- 625,000 people suffer mental and physical ill health as a direct consequence of the stress and physical demands of caring.
Shouldn’t we be thinking of better ways to support them financially, and integrate them into the workforce? We know they will usually also go the extra mile.
Involuntary carers get benefits of just under £63 per week. This is not enough if you have responsibilities, want a life or have other costs. These benfits are also affected by earnings threshold and part time income. In the long term it will cost society far more to find space in a care home for an elderly family member, or keep a paid carer dropping in for 15 minutes occasionally.
We should also consider other ways to help families with the burden of old age:
- Why can’t the tax system allow adult children caring for mum and dad to be allowed to accept payment from their parents towards their care and not be trapped by the 7 year tax rule?
- Family carers could also be given incentive to extend their property to accommodate their elderly parents without interference from the taxman. There is currently some relaxation on this.
- Everyone could be offered an opt in to a new government ‘Family Care Scheme’ as part of their National Insurance contribution, to cover any accommodation they might need in the future.
This FCS would give the government a long term commitment to build and maintain old people’s homes. These ‘sheltered homes’ would be administered by an independent body (local councils would inevitably become political about it) and directly partnered with specific nearby GP surgeries to support their medical needs.
The elderly being discharged from hospitals would be given priority in these homes as an interim measure, until they can be re-charged back into family care. Some people may never use it, and those savings could be invested back into the FCS to help other members of the family should their time come.
Everyone no doubt has constructive ideas to sort out the social care situation. Let’s hear them, rather than this constant mantra that all we need is more money. Money is not an infinite resource, and taxpayers and their families often know better how to spend it than a remote government agency.