I thought Gordon Brown was an intelligent man. I read that he has hired, at our huge expense, a number of intelligent advisers. How can they, between them, have come up with the subject of care for the elderly as the topic for the â€œfightbackâ€?
Anyone with half an ounce of commonsense – or do we have to say gram these days? â€“ would see the pitfalls. The popular position on care for the elderly is to offer â€œfreeâ€ care for all, the one thing the government has to rule out on cost grounds. The issue is one settled by Members of the Scottish Parliament for Scotland, where they have more generous arrangements than England.
So, in the middle of a row about the unfair treatment of England and the state of the Union, generated by his own side led by the Labour Leader in Scotland, a Scottish MP, acting as Prime Minister of the Union, decides to highlight the unfair treatment and tell us, the English, it has to stay unfair! Did no-one, from the PM down, see what an own-goal this was likely to be?
My colleagues and I have sat through many a surgery appointment where constituents have complained that their elderly relatives have had to sell their homes to pay the nursing home or residential care-home fees. We have had to patiently explain (under this government and its predecessor) that offering to pay all nursing and care-homes fees from taxpayer receipts would mean a big increase in taxes. We have explained that health care is still free to all of whatever age, but living costs in a home are more akin to you and me paying the mortgage and the grocery bills, so they have to come out of private funds until the elderly have run out of cash, when the state will then take over. The constituents are rarely persuaded, and feel a great sense of injustice that their elderly relatives have to sell up and pay.
There are four possible answers to the vexed question, ‘who pays the care-home fees?’ The first is the elderly themselves, either out of their savings, or from the proceeds of selling the houses they no longer live in. The second is the relatives or friends of the elderly, often the people who will inherit the houses if they do not have to be sold to pay the fees. The third is for the elderly to have put in place some type of insurance or financial arrangement in their younger years when they had more income, so they do not need to touch their previous homes and their capital value. The fourth is to require the taxpayers to pay, as if residential care were a full cost on the NHS.
It might be a good idea for the relevant Secretary of State to consult on more imaginative ways for elderly people to finance their possible need of care-home services that do not require the sale of their residence when they do have to move into a home, if the government now has such ideas. It makes no sense for the Prime Minister himself to open up the whole issue of care for the elderly when he cannot afford to offer the solution those most affected by the issue would like, and when it is treated differently on either side of the English-Scottish border. It just reminds people that he is a Scottish MP, and reminds us all of the differential treatment under his lop-sided devolution.
Care for the elderly reveals the unfair settlement for England. The Prime Minister and his advisers are letting England down again, and spending our money on highlighting just how they are doing it. They are showing that Scottish MPs in this government can lead the debate and settle the outcome for England when they cannot do the same for Scotland, and when English MPs have to keep out of the Scottish decision.