Social care: do we need a cultural shift in how we treat the elderly?

This week a poll was conducted on the proposal being internally mooted by the Tory government to raise national insurance contributions to adequately fund social care. Unsurprisingly the mood wasn’t warm when people were sampled on whether they’d like to pay tax, although its not the kind of “never, never” attitude to taxation that a populist would expect:

To understand how national insurance works the BBC reproduced a helpful graphic (based on the older rate), essentially it is a tax on income but separate from income tax. So most workers will pay both national insurance and income tax, it has a lower allowance than income tax so lower paid workers might pay only national insurance contributions but still be beneath the threshold for income tax (which is 12.5k).

But beyond the cost of social care, there is little discussion about the capacity of it to cope even with massive financial resources. The government could fund more state subsidised social care, but this would only provide bricks and mortar, how does it attract talent to work in the sector whenever immigration is much lower than before Brexit? When the work is very manual and private providers can entice away workers from the state sector with better pay and hours?

Unlike the NHS dilemma (which is similar) some social care doesn’t require specialist expertise but rather a friendly and communal environment. There will always be the need for specialist care if a family member is no longer independent because of a disability or illness. But outside of this there are demands on social care which could otherwise be met in an older institution, the family.

This isn’t me proposing a return to Victorian values or that women should bare an even more disproportionate share of the household responsibilities. However, the perfect demographic storm is brewing, an ageing population of healthier and healthier older people who are mostly property owning and related to a younger working age population who cannot get on the housing ladder. By combining familial wealth to buy a larger property it might suit both groups to form a single household unit. This could have the added benefit of childcare also for those grandparents willing and able to provide it – which should come with a state incentive.

I realise many will find such a proposition offensive and potentially very conservative. But the reality of the last two centuries is that functions which were largely family centric (like welfare) have come into the state domain. This has been overwhelming positive; however, can we really say the same for social care? Aren’t we as younger people just outsourcing our responsibility to kin? The loneliness many old people feel is linked to how little familial mixing now happens, I was fortunate that my grandparents provided weekend and evening care for me growing up but this is now increasingly rare.

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