Elderly care is at a crossroads

THE question of how to cover the costs associated with an ageing population is one of the greatest domestic challenges facing Britain, not least at a time when public spending continues to be squeezed.

THE question of how to cover the costs associated with an ageing population is one of the greatest domestic challenges facing Britain, not least at a time when public spending continues to be squeezed.

Longer lifespans – and the problems posed by the rising incidence of dementia – mean that the sums involved in looking after the elderly simply don’t add up. While the pressures on existing services are mounting, funding constraints mean the money available to meet this burgeoning need are being stripped back.

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The picture painted by the latest annual report from the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services is particularly bleak. It shows that councils have made savings in their social care budgets amounting to some £3.5bn in the last three years.

Despite the great progress achieved by the Conservative-led coalition in other areas – most notably in tackling a welfare bill that spiralled out of control under Labour – it has taken some time for 
the Tories to recognise the scale of the challenge on social care.

Prior to the 2010 election, George Osborne proposed that individuals pay a one-off voluntary payment of £8,000 to cover their future care costs, despite the typical cost of long-term care for a pensioner being £52,000.

The Care Act has shown that the Government now has a better handle on the situation, with its emphasis on the need for better integration of care and support provision between councils, health services and voluntary organisations. Yet it must be doubtful that the Act’s potential for meaningful reform will be realised if it is not accompanied by adequate, well-targeted central investment in those structures. Otherwise, more people will slip through the net, councils will face a growing number of legal challenges and the NHS will come under more, not less, pressure.

Politics of power

Is city devolution for real or not?

WHAT is the difference between George Osborne’s plan to turn the North into an “economic powerhouse” – and Ed Miliband’s challenge to local councils to come together to form a series of “regional economic powerhouses”?

Listening to the politicians, there is a world of difference. The Tories say that Labour’s plan to devolve £30bn to the North is unaffordable while the Opposition have accused the coalition of dragging its feet. The Chancellor wants a high-speed rail line from Leeds to Manchester; Labour want more investment across the region.

The reality, however, is very different. Despite their protestations, the main parties actually agree that Yorkshire’s transport and business infrastructure needs to be overhauled – and that it would be preferable if these changes were driven by regional leaders rather than London-based public servants.

This common ground should be exploited. Perhaps it would be prudent if the peers Michael Heseltine and Andrew Adonis, the respective masterminds behind the Conservative and Labour blueprints, were allowed to work together so they could build one strategy that could stand the test of time – at least this would end the cycle of stop-start policy-making which has become so counter-productive.

Yet the challenge facing both the Tories and Labour is the same. Are they genuinely prepared to release public funds to the regions – or is this political window-dressing prior to the next election? This is the issue exercising those voters who did give Mr Miliband the time of day in a week dominated by the Tour de France.

Tour’s flying start

On their bikes, get set, go...

AS the acclaimed race director of the Tour De France, Christian Prudhomme is accustomed to seeing cyclists on the road. But even he has been taken aback by the sheer number of riders in the county ahead of the Grand Départ. “It is fantastic. There are many, many bicycles everywhere – yellow bikes, white bikes...” he said with wide-eyed astonishment at the extent to which Yorkhire has embraced the world’s greatest cycling race.

Yet, while cycling’s aficionados are counting down the days to the Tour’s Saturday start, one of the most symbolic and emblematic moments of a historic week took place yesterday in Temple Newsam Park when primary school pupils took part in a special series of races.

This is what the Grand Départ is about; encouraging the next generation to learn to cycle in a safe and rewarding environment. On this early evidence, the 2014 Tour is already off to a winning start.