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Why we're fooling ourselves about paying for old-age care

PUBLISHED: 08:33 22 March 2018

Paying for long-term care in later life is an issue that won't go away - and will remain a political minefield.

Paying for long-term care in later life is an issue that won't go away - and will remain a political minefield.

Archant

Paying for long-term care when we’re old is something none of us likes to think about. But we should, says Rachel Moore.

The week when a quarter of adult Britons admitted to having no savings, the onerous cost of old age care was in the headlines.

No one ever wants to think about ending up in a care or nursing home. No one ever really wants to think about getting old at all.

A pension, writing a will and paying off the mortgage is about as far into old age as we allow ourselves to think.

Steering our young adult children to financial independence and having enough to live on when we decide to cut down our working hours, or have them cut down for us, is as far as we let our getting older plans go.

None of us adds the bill for 24/7 residential care to our projected old age costs because no one believes it will happen to him or her – or allows themselves to believe. That’s what happens to others, if they’re unlucky.

But the need to be looked after by qualified nursing staff can come out of the blue and it all has to be paid for.

It only takes a stroke to hit and someone who woke up fit and active could end the day dependent on a coterie of carers all day every day for the rest of his or her life.

The onset of dementia, a condition increasing as the population ages, and its long decline requires 24-hour care. No one saves to pay to be looked after if our mind goes. It doesn’t bear thinking about, so we don’t.

With care home bills at about £1000 a week, the relief of paying off that mortgage will be short lived. Your home – or ‘property’ as it’s called to make it feel more like an investment than a home– then becomes part of the money pot that will pay for that care.

Families hate to see the pot of savings dwindle until there’s just the few thousand left that the government allows before the system where social services starts to pick up the bill kicks in.

When health secretary Jeremy Hunt, in his first speech since taking over the portfolio of social care, describes the burden of care costs on families “punitive” and random, you know the system is in a total muddle.

“The way that our current charging system operates is far from fair,” he said this week,” as it looks like he plans to reinstate a cap on how much people have to pay for their social care.

But the rising care bills have got to be paid for somehow, and with a rapidly-ageing population, those bills are only going to grow.

Making young people pay looks like the government answer, with a savings or insurance scheme for the young and higher taxes for pensioners who continue to work being mooted for a green paper, all likely to cause a rumpus themselves.

The prospect of needing to pay for a care home 50-odd years in the future to a 25-year-old with student debt and the little prospect of ever owning their home will rightly cause uproar.

The quality of care is just as hard to plan as the reason you might end up in a care home.

The whole issue is a costly and distressing minefield that affects more families every day and, as medicine can keep the frail elderly alive for longer, will just get more costly.

Like the health lottery that takes people to need a care home, the care you get and what you pay for is a lottery and hardly fair.

Then, if you have nothing, no savings and rent your home, your care is paid for anyway.

It’s clear why so many old people sign over their homes into their children’s names so its value can’t be used to pay for their care. Their children keep the inheritance and they escape big bills, which is probably the biggest unfairness of it all.

But if every old person divested themselves of their worldly goods and threw him or herself on the mercy of the public purse, the country would be bankrupt and the care system in tatters.

Care costs should be one of our biggest concerns but our heads remain firmly in the sand.

But it doesn’t always happen to someone else.

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