Letter: Who should pay for care of the elderly?

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Sir: The usual combination of tireless lobbying and a pending election has finally provoked the Government to take seriously the plight of elderly people forced to impoverish themselves to pay for long-term care ("Pension deal aims to protect assets", 8 May).

The brief debate in the House of Commons regrettably, but predictably, became a "tax on the elderly" knockabout with all the usual arguments about which party costs the taxpayer less. Unless we are proposing to deny care to the elderly and frail - the logical conclusion to the low- tax argument - then the big question is not "do we pay for care" but "how do we pay for care?"

The Government states categorically that the responsibility for financing care lies with individuals, yet by encouraging those same individuals to insure themselves for care costs, they implicitly accept that a collective approach is both fairer and more efficient.

Insurance, after all, is based on the principle of pooling risk and sharing cost, rather than assuming a potentially catastrophic risk on one's own.

The coming decades will see the ratio of people of retirement age to those of working age rise significantly. Such a shift requires a serious debate now if we are not to experience both a public expenditure and a care crisis in the future.

Archy Kirkwood MP

(Roxburgh and

Berwickshire, Lib Dem)

House of Commons

London SW1

The writer is Community Care spokesman for the Liberal Democrats