I read Liz Kendall’s article on the Guardian website a couple of days ago and while I haven’t been able to respond fully until today, I did want to.
Kendall is the shadow minister for care and older people a particular remit (as far as having a specific spokesperson for older people) that doesn’t exist in government.
Generally, I’ve found her input to be helpful. There were a number of issues raised in this article though that concerned me.
Kendall is right to draw attention to the issues that present themselves in relation to care and quality of care in this country and focused on the inequity of payments in the care system which she is right to identify as a key area that needs to be reformed and hopefully will be shortly.
The current charging policies are all over the place and there is no consistency between local authorities however for me, I see the issue of quality of care and equity of provision of high and trustworthy standards of care to be, if anything, more of a crisis.
Kendall’s article, unsurprisingly, seemed aimed at the middle classes who are preoccupied with costs of care. I was particularly disappointed with this line
There is also a very real anger that older people who have worked hard all their lives can end up losing the family home to pay for care, through no fault of their own
Not because she’s wrong – she isn’t – but because the well-trodden ‘people who have worked hard all their lives’ line attempts to create a divide with what? With people who have lazed around on benefits? With people who have undertaken lower paid jobs and live in council housing? With people who have had different backgrounds, responsibilities and challenges and as such don’t own properties to lose?
I’m often in my work asked precisely this question directly. ‘What should I pay for care when I’ve worked hard all my life and paid into the system and bought a nice house when Mr Smith across the road in the council estate has done nothing and gets everything free?’.
I have a generic response about not trying to make comparisons but inside I’m thinking that you do have your nice house and you have the benefit of having lived in a great area with wonderful family around you and have an affluent lifestyle. Mr Smith across the road does work but you don’t see it. He works part-time in a supermarket and cares for his elderly mother etc etc. You get the idea.
I’m not saying this situation is right where people have to sell homes to pay for care but buying into the agenda of making divisions between those ‘hard working people’ who have ‘earned’ their money just creates more stigma on those who have not had lives as fortunate to be able to accumulate the same levels of wealth.
It’s politics all over and makes me despair of a time when politicians will want to act and speak for quality and standards for all people whether they have ‘worked hard all their lives’ or ‘paid into systems’ or not.
Is she really saying that earning well = working hard? I’ve been a care worker for a number of years and could barely pay my rent let alone consider the thought of owning a family home to lose in care costs. Does that mean I’ve worked less and contributed less than the banker or the teacher or the accountant who have been able to live in a home of their own?
The other issue she mentions is spoken as a politician who comes resolutely from the middle classes.
But my parents’ generation – the baby boomers – know they have benefited from the good years of free university education, steady economic growth and increasing house prices, as well as universal benefits such as free bus passes. They rightly want and expect to be able to pass on some of what they have earned to their children. They worry about how they will pay for the costs of care if they get ill or frail, but understand only too well the struggles their children and grandchildren face.
The assumption is that those who are addressed (and yes, I suppose Guardian readers fall into this pattern) have been to university and have benefited from increasing house prices having been able to afford homes.
Personally, I’d come down far harder on inheritance taxes to create a better system of care but that’s why I’m not a politician – but what I do see is a world where owning a home to pass on to your children is a luxury and one that potentially creates future inequities and divisions between a property-owning class who inherit and those who will be further frozen out of having a stake due to a lack of inherited wealth.
I agree with Kendall for the most part. The system of care needs to be reformed but not only the funding. Good quality care has to be an aspiration for all, whether it can be afforded or not and difficult decisions must be made about where the burden of cost should lie. I’d be happy to pay higher taxes but what I do not want to see is politicians bandying around the ‘hard working family’ line to try and divide us and distinguish and further stigmatise those who either don’t earn as highly or aren’t able to work for numerous reasons.
Is there a care crisis? I hear the word used frequently. There’s a challenge certainly. I don’t like the use of the word crisis as it seems to imply that this is somehow unforeseen. The governments of all colours have known very well about this problem but continue to sit on their hands whistling blindly because no one wants to make politically unpopular decisions. A consensus is needed but it may need a calibre of politicians that we don’t currently have who are prepared to take action for the good of the country rather than looking at the next election.
Photo by purplemattfish at Flickr