Age itself is not curable, though many of the diseases that once shortened the lifespan now are. The result is an increasing population of elderly people, increasingly infirm, who need, to some degree, to be looked after. The traditional solution – care in the extended family – is often inappropriate, and the older people are, the more likely it is that they will have dementia.
At the same time, there has been a public revolt against forcing old people to pay for all their expensive residential care until their resources almost dry up. The search has been going on for at least a decade for a more popular solution which passes more of the burden to the taxpayer. The Government’s latest proposals, which it admits are incomplete, would tidy up many of the existing anomalies and encourage people to make provision for their own old age, for instance by encouraging them to take out insurance. But the central idea of the Dilnot report, published last year, is being resisted by the Treasury.
This would limit to £35,000 the amount each individual would be required to contribute to their care costs, with anything above that being publicly funded. That, said Dilnot, could cost £1.7 billion a year, and rising. Alternative figures suggested for this spending cap vary from £50,000 to £75,000.
Many people who go into care homes sell the house they were living in, partly because they no longer need it and partly to raise money to pay for their care. The Government is keen that there should be loans available, repayable (with interest) only after death. But all these ideas evade the fundamental issue.
The house the old person was living in before entering the care system has come to be regarded as a family asset, part of their offspring’s eventual inheritance. If it is sold to raise funds, the asset ultimately disappears. Thus a key factor in the situation is the expectation that wealth will be passed down ...