WEEKLY COMMENT 23-03-2017
By Barry Edwards
This week the news is that social care companies contracted by county councils are struggling to deliver the services required and some are now unable to continue providing those services. Recently Theresa May has suggested that a death tax is a possible way of raising funds to help pay for the social care of older people which would be paid out of the estate of the deceased when their probate is settled. It would in effect be an additional tax on top of any inheritance tax that is due and is proposed to be another 10% of the total estate with a maximum of £73,000 and any costs above that to be covered by the state.
This was a proposal put forward by Gordon Brown but it got lost in the chaos when the financial crisis occurred. In fact it was agreed by all parties at the time and could have become law if events had been different. This would clearly be unpopular with the public but the costs of social care for the elderly have to be accounted for in some way as the nation gets older and lives much longer than anticipated when the NHS and the welfare state was created.
In my view there is a much better way of managing this problem which involves adapting the council tax to include payments made by each household for a community centre to be constructed in all areas of a certain size to include a care home with medical supervision for standard care home requirements. The plan would be to build or rebuild community space allocated for city councils, town or village halls to create a facility that was used by the community for all kinds of purposes. Clearly, where there are adequate facilities already in place these could be adapted to provide the service to the community.
The main point is that every household would have the right to utilise the facilities at the community centre if the occupants needed special care which could not be provided for the elderly in their own homes. It would encourage neighbourly responsibility and community involvement allowing for a convenient nearby home for all relatives and friends which would encourage utilisation of the centre itself. It would also be advantageous if a doctors’ surgery was included within the centre as well. Extra space could be provided to allow for other services to be available for the elderly and the community which would provide employment locally.
The funding for these centres could be provided by long–term loans which could be guaranteed by the county councils or other entities which could be established to keep the interest rate at a reasonable level and it would provide a safe investment for people with savings that at the moment are not earning a decent return to complete the local involvement and commitment. It would also alleviate ever increasing amounts of council funds being diverted to social care which is currently a big problem.
The extra amount that would be required and paid as part of the council tax would have to be worked out for each specific area and paid by the householder in perpetuity to pay off the loans and refurbish the facility for all residents. In effect all previous owners would have paid for the right for the current resident to access the facilities. On top of that payment an affordable rent would be paid by the occupants of the centre while they are in residence to cover the cost of food, maintenance and utilities. Some parts of the country are more popular with older people which would mean there may have to be some reallocation of resources from areas that have a low demand to those areas with high demand.
These centres would coordinate with the regional NHS trusts to help with the big bed blocking problem they are currently experiencing allowing them to concentrate on the more serious medical cases that have to be postponed because of the lack of beds in the hospitals. Everybody would be assured that any problem their old age may present is adequately covered by a local facility that would allow them to access care whenever it is needed.
The simplicity of the plan is that it is easy to incorporate within council budgets and the systems are already in place to manage the concept. Residents would have a thriving community centre with a range of facilities that have not have been available previously. Householders would make every effort to ensure that the complex is up to standard and run properly since they may have to utilise the facilities themselves. Since many of the services councils operate are for the elderly it would be perfectly feasible that some of these were managed by these complexes entirely helping to reduce overall costs and allow councils to concentrate on more pressing activities.
The attraction of the plan is that it is a good method to begin the devolvement of government administration to local communities bringing responsibility for these activities to the people directly. It would allow them to manage their affairs in the way they wish to suit the local needs that are specific to each community. It would encourage people to participate more in government and council activities improving the delivery of the services required.
That’s all for this week, more observations next week.