The price of dignity in old age
- Northern Ireland
The UK government needs to face up to the true cost of caring for an ageing population. This means making some tough choices about who gets what, writes Anita Charlesworth
The government spends some £140 billion a year on services for older people. The bulk of this pays for pensions and other welfare benefits, and NHS care. Just 6 per cent goes towards meeting the social care needs of older people.
If you were starting with a blank sheet of paper, would this look like the best balance of spending to ensure quality of life, dignity and respect in older age? Is spending so little on social care relative to health and cash payments meeting the needs of older people? Is it the most efficient use of taxpayers’ money when we know that restricting social care leads to the NHS being an – expensive – service of last resort for those who need help?
The 2012 Budget confirmed that public spending austerity is with us until at least 2017. In this climate, the government cannot afford to duck these issues. Ahead of the government’s long awaited White Paper the Nuffield Trust has published a paper on funding social care – reflecting on the recommendations of the Dilnot Commission into funding care and support. Like so many others, we urge the government to approach the reform of social care and its funding with the urgency it deserves.
In the short term finding a way to help more of the people who need support but fall under the increasingly restrictive eligibility criteria has to be a priority. One option is to look again at the NHS budget . Despite the pressures on funding, the NHS is on track to deliver a surplus in 2011/12, as it has done for a number of years. The expected surplus this year is currently £1.5 billion.
The 2010 Spending Review established the principle that health funding could be earmarked to support projects that met individuals’ care needs and could also be spent on services that reduced avoidable use of the NHS.