Monday, 4 July 2011

Time for a genuine cross-party consensus on care

Andrew Dilnot has produced an excellent report today on the future of social care for older people, addressing head on the fears of many about the costs of care in their old age. His proposals, that the level above which assets are taken into account should rise to £100k is more realistic than the current £23k, while his proposals for a cap on care costs and on living expenses in care are both reasonable. Ed Miliband offered yesterday to develop a cross party consensus on this issue, a generous offer given the pathetic pre-election attitude of the health secretary Andrew Lansley to imaginative suggestions from Andy Burnham while he held the same post, dubbing it all a 'death tax' in a piece of sub-Palinesque (Sarah not Michael) rhetoric ill-suited to such a sensitive subject.

Now there is again the chance to develop a proper consensus on this issue. David Cameron needs such a consensus as it will involve significant costs, and some difficult decisions about how to pay for it. He has been open to using individual Labour politicians on some issues: it is as important to be open to genuine cross-party working where it is so patently in the wider interest. For Ed Miliband, there is a lot to be gained from being consensual on such an issue. It was politically shrewd to speak to the Sunday Telegraph on the issue yesterday.

But this is, above all, about reaching a solution that is right for a growing elderly population, providing reassurance to those not yet in need of care, but also ensuring quality if they do need to enter care. And a lot more work is also needed to provide a proper quality mark for care homes and to create higher minimum standards, as that is as much a concern for many as cost. It is absurd that the Government is scrapping rather than widening the star rating system: families need a single easy to understand system that is clear on both facilities and standards, and it needs to be regulated and enforced by the government regulator. There should also be an equivalent of TripAdvisor where families can add their views and comments, as Janice Turner suggested in Saturday's Times.(£)

Social care is an issue that will not go away. It is something where politicians can genuinely make a difference - and show themselves in a better light in the process.

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