Who should pay for the cost of care? Generally, the consensus seems to be ‘not me’.
“It’s just not fair” screams the headline of the flyer that dropped through my letterbox this week.
“45,000 families every year are forced to sell their homes to pay for their care,” it continues, before promising help on how to protect my home and savings from care fees, the taxman and “many other threats”.
The flyer is not unusual – the issue of paying for care has been at the top of the political agenda for some time. But it gets to the heart of what is wrong about the debate at the moment.
We all acknowledge that care needs to be paid for, but nobody actually wants to be the ones that foot the bill.
The care crisis
Put simply, we aren’t spending enough money on care at the moment.
According to the Local Government Association (LGA) an additional £2.6 billion is needed by 2019/20, in order to cover the current funding gap and address future funding issues.
It even acknowledges that this is a conservative figure, though Age UK reckon the problem is even more severe, suggesting that an additional £5.75 billion is needed by 2020/21.
The government is desperately scrabbling around for cash to try to throw at this problem, but as the National Insurance fiasco in the Budget shows, it is short of answers.
The horrible truth is that we just cannot rely on the state to cover the cost of looking after us in old age or if we get sick. If we can, we are going to have to contribute towards those costs ourselves.
Speaking from experience
I should point out, I know only too well how expensive care is.
My grandmother spent the last couple of years of her life in a care facility just down the road after suffering a series of strokes, and the costs were incredible.
My grandparents had worked hard and saved their money, but a lot of those savings were eroded by the monthly fees.
My wife’s grandmother had a similar experience, and I know that my in-laws fretted for a long time about the fees involved.
It is entirely understandable. These people had built up a decent nest egg which they planned to pass onto their children and grandchildren, and the thought of that money disappearing in a puff of smoke hurts.
And that hurt is magnified by the fact that the cause is health, when we take such huge pride in our free healthcare.
Unlike in the US, where healthcare costs are the cause of a vast number of bankruptcies, here in the UK we put enormous value in the fact that getting sick will not lead to a financial catastrophe as well (in theory, anyway).
There’s also the fact that my generation, and those that follow, are likely to be more reliant on whatever inheritance we do get than previous generations.
A study from Halifax found that one in four 18- to 34-year-olds are relying on an inheritance to buy a property.
Without that helping hand, getting onto the property ladder is seemingly out of reach.
I can’t speak for everyone my age. But I can say, hand on heart, that I couldn’t give a stuff what inheritance I may or may not get.
If the money that my grandparents worked for will ensure that they get the best quality care when they need it, then good.
The same goes for my parents – I’m not interested in their money, I just want them to be well looked after when the time comes.
If you don’t pay it, who will?
Here’s the thing – someone has to pay for that care.
If I get sick and need around the clock care, and I can at least make some sort of contribution towards that cost, then of course I should do it.
Because if I don’t, and the state is forced to pay for the entire lot, then everyone loses out.
Those grandchildren that you want to hand a few quid to after you die? They will be paying higher taxes throughout their working life in order to pay for the care you received but didn’t want to pay for.
What’s more, they will be paying for the care that your peers receive, the other ones sat on a veritable property goldmine but who resent having to use it to cover their care costs.
According to Key Retirement, pensioners are sat on property worth £1.072 TRILLION.
Since 2010, the average pensioner has seen their property increase in value by £66,000 – that’s the best part of £10,000 a year.
Millennials already face being the first generation in history to be worse off than their predecessors.
They won’t benefit from a free university education, final salary pensions or frankly ludicrous property price growth.
To expect them to have to dip into their pockets again to pay for care fees, when so many pensioners are sat on such extraordinary property wealth is completely immoral.
Look, I don’t want people to be made homeless. The government wants to cap the amount anyone pays towards their care fees, and I think that’s a sensible step.
I don’t want people to have to sell their homes in order to pay for their care, but I think we need to accept that for some – scratch that, many – older people it is going to be the most appropriate way to meet at least some of those costs.
Is it fair? Perhaps not, but it’s certainly fairer than the alternative.