All too often we let our emotional attachment to the welfare state get in the way of the urgent need for reform.
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley is incredibly brave – it’s always going to be politically harder for a Conservative to implement reform – but absolutely right to tackle how we approach social care.
Even before the Barnet graph of doom became a local government cliché we knew that social care costs were absorbing increasing, and alarming, shares of council budgets. In a time when retirement can last as long as a working life, and the frailties of extreme old age require specialist and scarily expensive care, something has to change.
Much as I believe in localism, and the inevitable consequence that councils offer different levels of service, it is hard to justify differing levels of care for the elderly based on borough boundaries. A minimum standard, as proposed by the care white paper, helps address that. But far more important are the guarantees given to individuals to allow them to manage their own care budget. Care will have to be provided for the benefit of the individual because they are involved in managing it.
The role of carers will be recognised, with their needs assessed to ensure they do not suffer just because they are looking after a loved one. Aside from the savings this will create, it is an obvious fact that care from a loved one will almost always be better than care from anywhere else.
Equally important is the right for everyone to get a loan, secured against their home, and not have to sell their home while still alive to fund their care. Combined with the other white paper proposals, it will give older people a greater chance of maintaining their dignity and independence throughout their old age.
Many of these proposals already work well in councils across the country and while there are still uncertainties (not least a decision on capping costs) that should not stop us welcoming the move towards a better system of social care that is fit for our times and provides improved care and certainty for those who need it.