Will workers in their 40s and 50s end up paying for older people’s social care?
I am lucky. I have gone through most of my life with an energetic and fun mum and dad. They kept me and my siblings warm, clothed and fed, but also kept themselves busy with interests and friends.
They climbed into Jumbo jets to go on holiday when that was a new thing, enjoyed Nottinghamshire playing cricket in the summer and in the winter were down at Meadow Lane watching Notts County. They sailed through the milestone birthdays of 70 and 80 on a sea of cake and shandy.
And I never worried too much about their future because, well, the State was always going to be there to help. After all, my dad paid tax and national insurance all his working life – a long working life, too. His first job was at 14, in a clothes-dyeing factory; he retired as an optician when he was 80.
In my mind – and his, before he died last autumn – the society he had contributed to (and fought for) would be there for him in old age, should he ever need it. My dad was 97 when he died, mum is 90. A big chunk of his care home fees were paid for by Notts County Council. Mum receives an attendance allowance so both have benefited, as they should.
But some councils which handle this statutory funding for elderly care are suddenly warning that this crucial and all-important social contract may be in jeopardy. They say they are finding it hard to balance the books, with some authorities dropping hints to families that more of the cost for looking after their elderly parents may fall to them. Some are putting people under pressure to do all they can to keep their older parents living at home.
A Green Paper on care and support for older people was due last autumn. The Brexit negotiations have delayed it by nine months so far. On the panel is corporate director for social care, health and public protection at Notts County Council, David Pearson.
Who knows what it will come up with – a system of means-testing the children of elderly parents to make them pay more for care? Over-40s paying higher rates of tax?
We rightly celebrate reaching a good age and always have done. The Queen sent congratulatory cards to my parents twice, for their 60th and 65th wedding anniversaries, both significant milestones to be proud of.
But those years and miles also bring frailty and infirmity – cruel enough, without sudden financial uncertainty, too. Up and down the country, millions of grown-up children are more than happy to do their part helping those who helped them along.
A good society works that way, and the elderly should always come at the top of the pile when it comes to receiving care. Every council – however much they need to cut their cloth – should be keeping that clearly in mind.