Something for Cobra to bite on: It's worth paying for the elderly

Social care doesn't sound as dramatic as Ebola, but there should be more urgency around how we will support our growing elderly population over the next decade

Share

What keeps you awake at night, apart from your neighbour's summer party? The Ebola virus coming to this country? A Labour government putting up taxes? It may be the start of the summer holidays but, if you listen to the Government, there are plenty of reasons for us to have sleepless nights.

Last Wednesday, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond convened Cobra, the Government's emergency and security committee, to discuss the UK's preparedness for an Ebola outbreak. In the same week, ministers also warned that Labour wanted to impose a "death tax" of 15 per cent on our estates to fund social care, after vague comments by Andy Burnham, the Shadow Health Secretary, emerged suggesting as such.

Clearly, the worldwide threat from Ebola is grave – although the likelihood of a case in this country remains small. The danger of Ed Miliband fleecing us of tens of thousands of pounds when we die is debatable – particularly because Labour denied this was party policy.

But in terms of a serious threat to our society in Britain, it is on this second issue that the Government should call an urgent meeting of Cobra. While the idea of a death tax is controversial and unpalatable, people need to wake up about the cost of funding elderly care over the next few decades. Social care doesn't sound as dramatic as Ebola – there would never be a Hollywood thriller called, say, Bedpans and Walking Sticks. Yet, with dementia set to rise, one in 10 of us already caring for someone, and a greater number expected to have to fulfil this role over the next decade, why isn't there more urgency around how the elderly – and their carers – are supported? Age UK estimates that enabling those currently giving up their jobs to become carers to carry on in work – and supporting them through designated care leave – is worth £5.6bn to the economy. It is crucial that the Treasury recognises this major contribution to our nation.

Our growing elderly population, with its attendant burdens on the NHS, social care services and families, should be at the forefront of everything the Government does. It should be at the heart of party manifestos for 2015. The policy of care leave – backed by Carers UK – which would allow employees a legal right to time off, in the same way as if they had had a baby, should be the first act of the next government. This is a modest proposal of up to 10 days off: in the US, employees are allowed to take up to 12 weeks a year for any sort of family leave, which can be taken at once or as a series of shorter periods. Studies have found that it has only a minimal impact on business.

What the Government has done is offer the newly retired access to their entire pension pots. This is a great way to empower those in their sixties and seventies, by giving greater freedom to invest, yet it hardly encourages an understanding that we will need plenty of cash when we make it to our eighties.

And the Government has pledged a cap of £72,000 on the amount that anyone will pay towards care in their old age. Yet, in reality, this figure is likely to be much higher because it does not include the costs of residential care, meaning that we could each have to pay £150,000 before the state steps in.

So how are we going to pay for care for the elderly? Should people who have spent their lives saving for retirement and watching their modest home increase in value find it snatched away? A death tax is not only electorally difficult but morally questionable. Yet, as we are all likely to be affected by the need to care for a loved one or our own old age, or both, surely we should all contribute to this great problem through the tax system? The Labour government put a penny on national insurance to fund the NHS when it was needed. What is required now is an equivalent sacrifice, not at death but from all of us, young and old, to pay for our care crisis. Care for the elderly should be regarded as equally precious – and as worthy of investment – as NHS hospitals and state schools. With it, we will all be helped; without it, we will suffer. It is, surely, worth a meeting of Cobra.

Just the job for Johnson

The first meeting of Cobra took place in the 1970s to deal with striking miners. Its dramatic name is an acronym of its more prosaic-sounding location, Cabinet Office Briefing Room A.

Whitehall loves an acronym – last week the Department of Health put out a briefing note on Nervtag, which is as chilling as its name suggests – New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group. But some shorthand labels have had to bite the dust. In 2005, Tony Blair gave Alan Johnson the new title of Productivity, Energy and Industry Secretary, not thinking that it could be abbreviated to Penis. A week later, Johnson's post was renamed Trade and Industry Secretary.

Bolt needs to unwind, too

Did Usain Bolt describe the Commonwealth Games as "a bit shit"? Probably. Although he denies it, there was only one person present with a shorthand note – the reporter from The Times. Yet should we forgive him? Yes. Bolt may have superhuman powers on the track, but those endless selfies – or Bolties, I suppose – demanded by members of the public must grind him down. He has money, fame and supernatural legs, yet his gift to the world – his speed – is slowed down by all those crowds. Being mobbed must be very isolating. It is the loneliness of the short-distance runner.

A conscience on your wrist

People charged with drink-related offences are being offered, instead of prison, special tags to keep them sober: have a drink and the equipment tips off the police. These tags are surely on a continuum of behavioural devices that, at the other end, includes those wristbands which count how many steps you've walked and how many calories you've burnt. I am addicted to my Nike FuelBand, which, if I do enough physical activity in a day, flashes "GOAL" at me and lets me compete with others online. If I sit still for too long, the FuelBand cheerily flashes "GO JANE", and if I miss my daily goal it doesn't alert the police, I just plunge into a pit of self-loathing. Perhaps a wristband could be invented to stop me spending so much time on Twitter or eating too much ice-cream.

twitter.com/@janemerrick23

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Education Editor: This shocking abuse of teachers should be taken seriously

Richard Garner
Brand loyalty: businessmen Stuart Rose (pictured with David Cameron at the Conservative conference in 2010) was among the signatories  

So, the people who always support the Tories... are supporting the Tories? Has the world gone mad?

Mark Steel
War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?