There are currently 3 million people over 80 in the UK , a figure set to double by 2030 and hit 8 million by 2050.
Make no mistake, this is a demographic time bomb which will cost us all.
For this increasing longevity comes with a price tag: the old often become unwell and disabled – and someone has to pick up the bill for caring for them.
Listen up the young and fit - ignore this issue at their peril. Youth and fitness does not last a lifetime.
Today’s White paper is expected to address some of the current failings of our social care system. It’s likely to see the introduction of personal budgets which will allow the disabled and the elderly people to choose where to buy some of their care. It’s also expected to standardise levels of care thereby ending the postcode lottery that currently exists from local authority to local authority. There will also be calls for increased regulation to safeguard the vulnerable and improve standards across the board.
So far so good. All this follows universal consensus that the social care system is not fit for purpose and requires radical reform. But where today’s social care reforms run out of steam is over funding. For there is no consensus about who should pay for any of this – or how.
The Dilnot Commission called for a cap of about £35,000 on the costs of care that must be shouldered by elderly and disabled people, with the state paying anything above that figure. That leaves a £1.7 billion in an annual shortfall and therein lies a problem today’s White Paper is unlikely to address, although it welcomes the principle of a cap.
A separate progress report published alongside today’s White Paper , describes progress made in cross-party talks about funding. It makes clear that all key decisions are likely to be postponed until 2013 – the next spending review. At the heart of the funding debate is how far elderly people should themselves bear the burden of raising the necessary revenue through the tax system.
Dilnot, an economist, suggested three potential sources of revenue:
General taxation – in which we all pay for the reforms
Reprioritising existing expenditure in which we raid already cash-strapped public services
Specific tax on the elderly – in which those who benefit from the reforms pay for it themselves
It’s obvious that two of the three would be hugely unpopular - and one is utterly untenable in the current cash-strapped environment.
The fact is we can’t afford to care for our ageing population without finding new ways of doing so. As long as the funding isn’t sorted out that will remain the reality our elderly have to endure, and the reality the next generation have to look forward to.
Today’s White paper may be muting the ticking , but the time-bomb is still active.