What Matters is the Care She Gets, Not Whether Her Kids Get Her House When She’s Dead
As we all go forward with fear and trepidation (or hope and optimism) into 2012, the media are full of the debate about care of the elderly.
The debate has predictably focussed on the funding of care. In the current system, those with more than a small amount of assets have to fund their own care out of their assets – including their home if they own one. This has led to many elderly people being forced to sell their homes to pay for nursing home care.
More accurately, of course, we should say, “led to their families being forced to sell”. The people kicking up a stink about this are not generally the elderly people concerned. They are their heirs, who hoped to inherit those homes.
Frankly, I have to say I have little sympathy for this. Certainly, there are problems with the existing system. There is room for endless debate on the right threshold for that cutoff of State funding. More extensive systems for deferring the expense until the elderly person’s death would be useful, preventing the urgent need to sell the home as soon as the person goes into care.
But the necessity of selling one’s home to pay for care is not unfair. On the contrary, it is completely fair.
Does that sound cruel and heartless? Consider then a millionaire who lives in a 25-bedroom mansion with 10 acres of rolling countryside attached, worth £10 million. If that millionaire needs to go into a nursing home, should the State (i.e. taxpayers) pay for his care, and then his heirs inherit the mansion in full? Would that be fair? If not, then the principle of means testing has been conceded and the only debates to be had are around the detailed issues like the level of the threshold.
The government recently commissioned the Dilnot Report, which recommended that people’s liability to pay for their care should be capped – they suggested a figure of £35,000. Any expenses above that figure would be met by taxpayers. If the Report’s recommendations were accepted, that millionaire’s heirs would get the £10 million mansion minus a token deduction of £35,000.
In other words, the report turned the existing system on its head. The current system protects the poor at the expense of taxpayers. The proposed new system would protect the rich at the expense of taxpayers. As such, the report is a disgrace, and it was pitiful to hear the Labour spokesman on Radio 4 this morning demanding that the government accept the recommendations. (Indeed, the Archbishop of York has also urged the same, telling us that Dilnot has
shown us the way forward
John Redwood was on that same programme on Radio 4. He mentioned this same point, that we are really talking about protecting the heirs, not protecting elderly people. He mentioned it twice. And was ignored both times.
He also raised the more important issue right now – that many elderly people are facing neglect or even downright cruelty. We need to make the necessary changes to the system to stop that. He raised that issue twice as well. And was ignored both times.
That is the crucial issue we need to address though. Our elderly are facing neglect while their heirs fight over their inheritance.
In years gone by, families would look after their own elderly. Of course, there are some elderly people without families, and some who are simply too frail and ill to be cared for at home. But the general model was that families took care of their own. That is still the model in many countries, and indeed still happens very frequently here in the UK. We rarely hear about the needs of those families who are still supporting their own elderly relatives.
The Dilnot Report talked about the need to support elderly people who want to go on living in their own homes, with simple tasks like shopping and cooking. In many or perhaps most families, those tasks are carried out by their children or grandchildren – yes, even now in today’s Britain.
As a country, however, we have in general moved on from family care of the elderly, for good or ill. Yes, it means that we are more free while we are young – but it means we face not having family support near the end of our lives.
We no longer look after our own elderly. We put them in nursing homes, and then pay national minimum wage to “carers” to look after them. And now we are squabbling over whether the cost even of that should come out of our inheritance when they die, or whether taxpayers should foot the bill while we enjoy the freedom that not caring for elderly relatives gives us.
If we are no longer to accept the responsibility of caring for our own elderly relatives, then we should at the very least accept that the cost of looking after them by professionals needs to be paid for, and not at national minimum wage either. Care should be professional and well paid, and funded as such. The cost of that should come first from the elderly person’s own resources (i.e. the inheritance of their children) and only after those resources are exhausted, be met by taxpayers.
Those are the principles that should underpin a reformed system for care of the elderly. Unfortunately the Dilnot Report seems to have missed them all.