Wednesday, 13 July 2011

A growing challenge

We are living longer and, generally, we are fitter and healthier at 60 and 70 and 80 than we have ever been before. This is something we ought to celebrate. However, that brings some big challenges.

If we are living longer in our pensioner years, we need to make increased contributions during our working years in order to fund our pensions. We can’t expect that our children, grand-children and even great-grand-children will simply be able to support us out of their current income.

Secondly, in general, as we grow older, we expect and need increased medical care. Together with significant advances in medical intervention – and they always seem to be very expensive – this inevitably means we need to pay more for our health services.

Thirdly, the increase in the numbers of people living longer also means an increase in the number of people requiring considerable social care. Whatever changes are made to continue to support people living in their own homes, it is inevitable that there will be an increase in demand for residential care. Today’s residents of old people’s homes require much more care than those of even twenty years ago. Further, there will be a continuing increase in the number of people who need specialised care because they are suffering from dementia.

These are really big challenges – economically and socially. The challenge is growing every day. It won’t go away by sticking our heads under the pillows. Neither should we believe that it is simply possible to continue as we are.

This is not an issue for cheap political points scoring. All political parties need to work together to find long-term solutions. Therefore, I was pleased that Ed Miliband recently said that he was prepared to work with the government and a wide range of other agencies to find an agreed way forward.

However, this will not be without difficulties, as there are some fundamental differences in values between political parties which will determine their approaches to particular issues.

Just look at the current debate – and industrial action – relating to pensions. Just think about the issue of how much we should contribute to our residential care from our savings, including the value of our homes.

The Dilnot Report inevitably proposes that we will need to increase pension contributions during our working lives, make an increased contribution to personal care of the elderly and disable through our taxes, and insist that those with savings and assets will have to contribute to the cost of care, although there may be a maximum cap on the amount.

It won’t be easy, but neither can the issue be ducked.