Joan Bakewell: A fairer way to meet costs of care in old age

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LIKE many, I support the Dilnot recommendations on social care and ask for a White Paper in the New Year and action from the Government.

I will explain from my own experience why this is so important. I recently made a Panorama programme that told the story of someone in her mid-50s who had moved into the family home to care for her mother.

Her mother’s health deteriorated and she went into a care home. The family home had to be put up for sale and the dutiful daughter was left without either a home or an inheritance.

These stories have proliferated in the media and have outraged people who wonder how such things are allowed to happen.

Before the Dilnot Commission, there was a very unattractive political skirmish when the previous Government proposed a tax on an individual’s estate.

It was denounced in the press and elsewhere as a “death tax”, and the proposal died. This proposal must not die.

It has to be faced. It deals with issues of death and inheritance. Perhaps that is why we have shirked it and spoken less absolutely than we need on the matter. The old fear loss. They fear the loss of their contemporaries. They fear the loss of their capabilities, and they deeply fear the loss of their home and their savings.

They fear these things more than other generations that have not got there yet, but such worries impact on the health and well-being of an older generation, and that is a consideration for the health of the nation generally.

There are several popular misunderstandings about this situation that get perpetuated by the press – I am sorry if I am guilty of that, and I hope I am not.

When I go to make programmes, people often say to me: “I’ve paid taxes all my life. Why am I not cared for when I am old?”

This refrain has given it a very high profile in the media. It was always understood that the National Health Service provided, as the phrase had it, from the cradle to the grave – to the grave, not to the old people’s home.

Social care was mistakenly seen as part of that contract with the state, and it still is.

Social care, housing, feeding and dressing were things that, as citizens, we have paid for all our lives, but when it comes to being frail, as well as old, we need help in them, so they bridge a social convention-that we pay for housing, food and health – and the medical convention of the National Health Service. We are back to “I paid taxes all my life”.

Dilnot’s most high-profile recommendation is that there should be a cap on an individual’s contribution to social care of somewhere between £25,000 and £50,000.

This is high-profile because it strikes at this very unease felt by a generation of older people who, I have to say, have assets.

We are asking taxpayers to fund the safeguarding of those assets.

It is a long explanation to make that plausible to people who do not have such assets and wonder why people better off than themselves are asking people in the lower tax range to fund them.

We are a property-owning democracy. Citizens are motivated throughout their lives to own their home and, what is more, it is a widely-held impulse and part of our culture to have something to pass on to our children.

Whether we approve of that or not is not germane to this argument. It is a widely-held cultural belief.

Dilnot seems to me to walk a tightrope in asking that care is funded by a shared responsibility between the individual and the state. That is a new and understandable contract.

It is as fair as can be devised and honours the aspirations of as many citizens as possible.

Adjacent to this proposal are recommendations urging people to plan early in their lives and to be informed of the financial packages that are on offer to meet the sums they could be called on to pay, but the central proposition is a good one.

I urge the Government and the Minister to move on this.

Baroness Bakewell is a Labour peer, television presenter and campaigner for the elderly. This is an edited version of a speech that she delivered in the House of Lords.