Of carers and careers

elephant in the room‘The most serious social policy issue in decades,’ is how the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) describes the ageing population and, in particular, its need for social care. Yet there’s quite astonishing apathy when it comes to planning for what’s about to hit us – the 1.7 million more people who will need social care over the next 20 years and projected doubling of those with dementia in the next 30 years.

The CSJ, a think tank founded by Iain Duncan Smith, highlights this paradox in its Interim Review of Older Age, a 250-page assessment of the state we’re in. Recommendations will follow in a final report due out next year.

Why aren’t we better prepared? Is it that nobody wants to think about ageing? That we can’t imagine it will happen to us? Is it the fault of the financial services industry, for not coming up with insurance products? Should governments have worked harder to resolve the tangled relationship between healthcare (free) and social care (means tested)?

The fact is that the soaring demand will come at a time of spending cuts and falling numbers of unpaid carers. The Centre for Social Justice attributes the latter largely to family breakdown, which is certainly a factor although there is also a more general atomisation, a feeling that individuals’ duties are first to themselves and their careers. Old people and our kind of capitalism don’t go very well together, unless the old people happen to have done extremely well financially earlier in life.

In a recent poll for ippr, the Institute of Public Policy Research, 45% of those asked said they would prefer professionals to provide care while a majority felt they should not be compelled to pay for care of their relatives. Many people believe social care is, or should be, the responsibility of the state. Unfortunately for them, the state is much less convinced. (The government’s recent Vision For Social Care talks a great deal about individuals, community groups and the Big Society.)

The scale of the problem is terrifying, the lack of preparedness more terrifying still. And every single discussion about it concerns money. We might find it easier to think about the issues if we looked down the other end of the telescope, if we started by asking: What would good social care look like? How might it genuinely involve both the social, and caring? Then maybe people would find care less horrible and overwhelming to think about, and we could begin to have a sensible debate.

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UK state pension age rises – but what is retirement for?

sky divingThe British government has confirmed that, as expected, it will bring forward the increase in state pension age. The previous planned rise from 65 to 66 for men will now almost certainly come eight years earlier, in 2016, and for women by 2020. Meanwhile, there will be a review of how much further and faster things should move, with suggestions that there will be legislation to allow for automatic age rises every five years. If the state pension isn’t directly linked to life expectancy, it will be something very like it. Britain will almost certainly be looking at holding off pension entitlement to the age of 70 by 2050.

In France, there were strikes and street demonstrations yesterday over plans to raise the state pension age to a mere 62. There, a pension is regarded as a central part of a treasured social contract between state and citizens, in which benefits are an essential part of a civilized society. Here, the resistance to the change has not been general, driven by public sector outrage, but on behalf of the poor. Brendan Barber, the general secretary of the TUC, pointed out that at the age of 65, men in Kensington and Chelsea can look forward to 23 years more of life, while their counterparts in Glasgow can expect only 14.

In that case, we ought to be thinking more about working lives and health inequalities than about retirement. This gross imbalance is conditioned by things that happen earlier in life – by the kind of work people are able to do and the opportunities they have to live healthily. Trying to do something about it (what, though?) at the age of retirement is a matter of stable doors and bolted horses. Continue reading