Care for the elderly debate reveals the unfairness of devolution

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 “fightback”?

Anyone with half an ounce of commonsense – or do we have to say gram these days? – would see the pitfalls. The popular position on care for the elderly is to offer “free” 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.


  1. ROJ
    May 12, 2008

    John, what exactly is the problem with the idea of people selling an asset that they no longer need – that is, their former home – in order to fund the residential care that they now need? The constituents complaining in your surgery are no doubt delighted with the idea of raising the IHT limits, but it would appear that they also want other taxpayers to step in to protect the value of their anticipated legacy.

    Reply: The constituents want to inherit it. I was merely stating the feeling. We never in government removed the requirement to pay if you could.

  2. Iain
    May 12, 2008

    Not so much a question of who pays, but what should be the allocation of resources from our tax base? For its about choices, as such I don't think you would need too may guesses to figure out the electorates choice between paying to ensure our elderly get the appropriate care, or funding the EU, for the two costs seem to be equivalent, unfortunately the British political establishment cry poor when money is needed to look after the needy in our society, yet pour our tax money into the undeserving EU trough.

    But I would agree with you about Gordon Brown looking to score an own goal, ( he seems particularly adept at this ), for when constitutional issues are bubbling to the surface again, which highlights his lack of mandate to dictate policy in England, the last thing you would have thought he wanted to publicise was the lack of fairness in what the English elderly receive compared to his own Scottish elderly. A disparity he was the architect of in the generous funding he kept flowing to Scotland, and also as Chancellor he denied to English people, for he was the one to say such funding for the English elderly was unaffordable, and single handily undermined the Parliamentary attempt to get such funding for England’s pensioners.

  3. Tony Makara
    May 12, 2008

    It is suprising that government does not do more to involve families in care for the elderly. I am part of a very large extended family and we, as a family, have a 'policy' that we will never allow any family member to be shunted off into a care home. For us the very idea of putting an elderly relative into a care home is shocking, even disrespectful. In the last years of life we feel that a relative should have the self-respect that comes from living at home or with another family member. A Conservative government, with its support for family and community values, must openly encourage families to support their elderly. Fifty years ago families looking after their own was the norm. We must return to that culture. People deseve dignity in the final years of their life and they don't get that in the communal atmosphere of old people's homes.

  4. […] a nice critique of the Government’s proposals and the current system, John Redwood MP, reviews the choices open to elderly and raises the dreaded spectre of devolution as a possible […]

  5. John
    May 12, 2008

    Many of us are concerned about affording to keep a roof over our heads now, never mind decades ahead when we become the 'elderly'.
    Rising oil prices, food and utility bills are taking a higher percentage of our disposable income almost on a weekly basis, and Brown wants us to think about way in the future?
    Of course HIS future is financially secure so he has no worries.

  6. Derek
    May 12, 2008

    The problem with the selling homes to pay for care issue is that those who have squandered money have the fees paid by the state. Many people who have dilligently and conscientiously put money aside for retirement are aggrieved when they see the feckless, who haven't, are no worse off. If this issue was addressed I'm sure you'd see less irate constituents. I appreciate that it is a very difficult issue.

  7. mike stallard
    May 12, 2008

    I am in my late sixties. No real pension – although we escaped Mr Brown's destructive pension tax and now have a house and enough to live on comfortably, but not richly. All this is due to my parents' and wife's parents' foresight.
    My mother is in her late nineties and lives in a granny flat with my brother and his wife. If, however, she has to go into a home, we lose both the house (in her name) and the savings (we have to live somewhere). Of course, we take turns in looking after her too, just as she looked after her own mother-in-law.
    With luck, we might get through. Without luck, however, we shall be dished.
    Mr Brown is in no position to help us.
    The attitude of the BBC and Government towards "old people" is summed up with a caricature – the elderly, idiotic widow whingeing about heating bills. If this was done, say, to black people, there would be an outcry.
    The ultimate insult, in my opioion is the winter fuel allowance.
    He needs to reduce taxation for everyone rather than do some more condescending fiddling with other people's lives.

  8. APL
    May 13, 2008

    John: "Of course HIS future is financially secure so he has no worries."

    It is even better than that. While most of us, hoi polloi will be paying for Brown to survey from a vantage of some comfort during his dotage, all he has destroyed.

    Each of us that is, who still holds a job, or a pension that might just keep his or her head above the rising tide.

  9. Adrian Peirson
    May 14, 2008

    When I become Prime Minister I will scrap taxes on Pensions for the over 65's. Giving them more well earned cash which they will spend so stimulating the economy.

    I will also give Pensioners access to the Capital of their Pensions anuity, not just the Interest from their Pension Pot (Annuity)
    It's their Money, why shoud the Pension Co Keep the capital when the Pensioner dies. It belongs to their Family.

    Oh yes and this Credit Crunch thing, you have to think outside the Box John, as a one off, write off everybody's Mortgage Debt.

    With the extra cash everybody will have they will help stimulate the economy.

    Punish the Bankers John, not the Public.

    Bank notes are not worth £5, £10 £20 they cost pennies to Print and credit is Just thin air.
    These are Private companies, would I be allowed to set up a company like that. isuing thin air credit under pain of reposessio iof the Borrower fails to keep up paying interest on this thin air.
    Our Money system is a fraud.

    Deliberately lowering interest rates to ensnare Borrowers then raising it again to haul in the assets of those families who have over stretched themselves.

    Recessions are deliberately Planned by the Global elite.

    The Money Masters

    Reply: Paper money is not a fraud – all the time people have confidence in it it is a very useful means of exchange.

  10. m bell
    August 9, 2008

    my father is now in need of 24 hr care my mother is in a care
    home i am his carer i cannot move in to look after him as i live
    in rented accomodation and if anything should happen to him
    as their house is joint owned i would be left homeless i wonder
    if someone could give me advice on this

    Reply: I think you should discuss this with your Local Authority who presumably help your father and have housing responsibilities.

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