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Looking for a long term of office

I seem to remember a hint a year or so ago, in a newspaper article suggesting that the elderly are too set in their ways to be voting converts. Not so, to judge by the way all parties have set out to woo the older voter at the start of this election campaign.

Grey power is a new force to be reckoned with as the baby boomers hit 50 and become, as far as the state is concerned, older citizens.

This age group has a vested interest in the way the state treats the elderly, either because they have parents in their 70s and 80s or because their own mortality is increasingly apparent with each new ache and pain.They are adding their voice to those people who have already retired.

These are voters all the parties now want and the parties which have been in Opposition want elderly voters to know that they have more generous plans in store than have been seen so far from Labour.

William Hague was first into the ring, within two days of the election date being announced, with his proposals for paying for the care of the elderly.

At the time of writing Labour&#39s response has come from cabinet heavyweights such as Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling and has attacked Opposition proposals as impractical and weak on arithmetic.

By the time that you read this, the argument, (debate is too soft a word) will have moved on.

What I would like to do here is to summarise what the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have cast in stone – what is in their manifestos.I will try and put this in the context of what they said last time round in 1997.

Conservatives 1997

Just before the 1997 election, the Conservatives had a draft bill on its way through Parliament proposing a partnership scheme between the individual and the public sector.

In essence, these proposals encouraged people to provide themselves with a degree of protection against the cost of long term care through insurance. This was on the basis that the individual could ringfence £1.50 of assets from having to be used to pay for care for every £1 of insurance benefit bought.

As the market leader in long-term care insurance, we were asked to provide information and help to the various committees working on these proposals. So, at the time of the last election the Conservatives were promising to drive this legislation through, at the earliest opportunity, if they were re-elected.

2001

“It is unfair that people who have worked hard and saved during their lives should find their assets seized by the state to meet the costs of long-term care, while those who have been less thrifty find that all of their long-term care costs are met in full.”

This time round, the Conservatives are proposing a commitment that all nursing care will be free at the point of use. They are also suggesting that there are a number of ways in which elderly people might protect their assets against the costs of care – a ringfenced long-term care fund into which savings are placed is one idea.

If a greater sum is needed to provide long-term care over an extended period, then the state will pick up the tab.

It is also suggesting that “for some people an approved insurance plan which would pay out the average expected cost of care may be an appropriate option”.

Scotland is dealt with separately and it is proposed that the royal commission&#39s recommendations for free personal and nursing care are implemented, and also that the financial services industry should develop new products to cover the areas which remain the responsibility of the individual.

Liberal Democrats 1997

They promised to raise the threshold at which older people are required to make a contribution to their long-term care. They declared a commitment to cross-party support for a national standard for funding care services which did not penalise thrift.

They proposed a requirement on local authorities to extend to those over 65 the right to arrange their own care privately, if they wished. This was designed to promote independence and enable people to find better value for money.

They also proposed the introduction of a new carers&#39 benefit in order to meet more of the financial costs of caring, and they advocated a charter to set out carers&#39 rights and responsibilities.

2001

“The Government&#39s NHS plan discriminates against older people with chronic and long-term illnesses by continuing to means test them for their own care. The plan has created a fault line between nursing and personal care and fails even to provide nursing care free on the basis of need.

Liberal Democrats would implement in England and Wales the royal commission&#39s proposals for personal and nursing care, to be provided on the basis of a person&#39s assessed needs instead of means.”

The manifesto reminds voters that the Liberal Democrats have been using their influence within the Scottish Executive to implement plans for the state to meet the costs of personal care North of the border.

Free personal and nursing care was trailed by the LibDems in a recent health mini-manifesto. They also propose increasing local authority social services budgets to provide more community care places and provide more social workers to support elderly people.

Legislation would be brought forward to end discrimination on the grounds of age in health and social care.

These proposals are part of a comprehensive health package which includes recruiting 27,000 more nurses, 4,600 more doctors and 10,250 more professionals allied to medicine.

Where will the money come from?

The Liberal Democrats have outlined a rise in the basic rate of income tax,and a 50 per cent higher rate for people earning over £100,000 to help pay for their proposals but the Labour response is to condemn them as “pie in the financial sky”.

The Conservatives proposals are being treated with equal disdain. This looks set to become a hot topic in the coming weeks as Labour outlines its own proposals against the backdrop of its first term in office.

It will be interesting to see how the cut and thrust of the argument develops as the campaigns hot up.

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