James Daley: The Government doesn't seem to care about this long-term crisis

Alan Johnson, the work and pensions minister, unveiled his optimistically titled "five-year strategy" this week - a thoroughly underwhelming piece of work which is supposed to outline the backbone of his ministry's policy through to 2010.

In reality, this was just a fancy way of dressing up the awkward news that incapacity benefit is being scrapped and replaced with two new "allowances" which are subject to much more stringent screening processes, and which will save the Government millions of pounds a year.

The rest of the report is a wishy-washy non-committal ramble through the Government's vision for a "fairer" Britain, where people will have more "choice", and where age and disability discrimination will be eliminated. All very New Labour.

Although the document acknowledges that the UK pensions landscape is in need of further change, Johnson and his cronies concede that they haven't figured out quite what they are going to do about that yet. Some strategy.

The fudging of the pensions issue was to be expected. But it was the line about age discrimination that got me going. In spite of persistent cooing about how much it has done for pensioners since it came to power in 1997, New Labour remains the only one of the three main political parties to have no coherent policy for addressing the funding crisis in the long-term care sector.

With thousands of elderly people still being wrongly denied state benefits to pay for their personal or nursing care needs, or being wrongly advised to sell their homes to pay for care, this is one of Britain's biggest social scandals.

The Government's refusal to even acknowledge the problem remains one of the worst examples of age discrimination in the UK today, capitalising on the fact that the victims of this scandal are usually in no position to stand up and fight.

At its very worst, people are losing their lives at the hands of the Government's inaction. With few easy ways for the elderly or their families to get advice when they need to move into a care home, temporary financial arrangements are often made. It's only when their money runs out, and when they can no longer afford to pay the home's fees, that they are told how to get access to state benefits. This usually involves moving to a cheaper care home - a move that often proves to be too much upheaval for the most frail patients.

Although Alan Johnson would probably say that long-term care is the Department of Health's, not his, problem, one of the main hindrances to sorting out the current confusion is the Government's lack of joined-up thinking. Long-term care financial planning is inextricably linked to the issue of pensions, and needs to be given proper consideration in the ongoing pensions debates.

The Treasury's belief that the answer to the pension crisis lies in people using the equity in their homes is flawed, not least because the Government's care bill would rocket beyond all control if people did not keep their homes to fund potential care bills. But the Government is unlikely to ever realise this, as the Treasury, Department of Health and the Department for Work and Pensions don't do much talking.

Alan Johnson's five year strategy is a joke. I can only hope that something more responsible and creative will follow once the election is out the way.

Why is there all this fuss about cash machines?

It was a good job there were no seats left when I arrived at the Treasury Select Committee hearing on cash machine charges last week. Confined to the overspill room down the hall - where the committee's nonsense was beamed in over a big screen - I was free to laugh out loud as the MPs unsuccessfully attempted to make a mountain out of a molehill.

As the directors of Halifax and Royal Bank of Scotland - and then the heads of four "charging" cash-machine operators - were subjected to mindless interrogation about how big the warnings should be on the front of charging ATMs, I wondered if there was not a better way for MPs to spend their time.

After three hours of repetitive questioning, the only apparent conclusion was that 14-point type was not big enough to warn punters they might get charged for withdrawing their cash. Revolutionary.

For those of you who have let yourself get caught up in the hype about the growth of charging cash machines, here's a few facts:

The proportion of ATMs that charge is now 40 per cent - compared to zero per cent five years ago. However, most of these are in places where there was previously no cash-point. The number of free ATMs has continued to rise - so you can still get your money free just as easily as ever. The banks are committed to maintaining a large free ATM network - because they know that if they don't, they'll get lynched. All ATMs that charge give you the option to quit if you don't want to pay. So why all the fuss?

j.daley@independent.co.uk

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at VouchedFor.co.uk

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Voices
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Ashdown Group: Client Services Manager - Relationship Management - London

    £30000 - £32000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...

    Recruitment Genius: Credit Controller / Customer Service

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding business...

    Guru Careers: In-House / Internal Recruiter

    £25 - 28k + Bonus: Guru Careers: An In-house / Internal Recruiter is needed to...

    Recruitment Genius: Tax Assistant

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Tax Assistant is required to join a leading ...

    Day In a Page

    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea