The lack of political consensus on how the UK faces up to, let alone tackles, our national care crisis is something we should all be worried about.
Labour made some proposals far too close to the end of the last Parliament – which the Tories opportunistically used as a political football. You may recall they coined the phrase ‘Labour’s Death Tax’ about a tax on our estates when we die.
The recent Commission by Andrew Dilnot has some excellent ideas in it, but will also struggle to find political consensus. The Tories are talking about putting back any implementation of Dilnot to the year 2025. In the mean time our population grows older, specialist housing associations have lost the grants they needed to build housing schemes for the elderly, local councils’ abilities to cope with care-home fees have been hit by a 30% cut to their budgets and care services for the elderly are showing real signs of strain across the country.
Labour needs to think through its offer right across our public services. It could do worse than road test new policies against some core principles. Firstly, In the face of a debt mountain new policies have to deliver value for money. Secondly, if the Party is to return to power policy needs to have direct appeal to aspirational voters in marginal seats that left us in droves at the last election and frankly these people haven’t returned. And thirdly we need to take on Cameron’s big idea of the ‘Big Society’ – not by belittling it but by outflanking it.
One of the best examples of the Big Society I can think of is the selfless contribution made by the carers of elderly relatives. But what does government do to back them? We applaud those cultures where caring as part of the extended family comes naturally, but we don’t – through policy – create an environment which fosters it.
The Labour Party should support tax relief or direct grants to people who need to build developments, annexes and extensions to their homes to look after elderly relatives. In doing so we would be supporting a more caring culture. We would appeal to the aspirational human instinct too, by allowing people to benefit from the uplift of the value of their enhanced home.
Making it more financially viable for people to build granny annexes is not going to be the cure to our care crisis. But in all of its new policies Labour needs to be clear about the kind of society it wishes to create, it must demonstrate that we’re on the side of people who save the state money, and to be credible at all it must make the case for policies that can reduce the size of our debt.
To do all of this whilst our society grows older will require a new approach, and a new attitude to how we support the families of elderly relatives.
Board Member of Hanover Housing Association – a provider for older people
Former MP and Minister