Far too often, looking at the Westminster Government, one thinks it is like a man who has undone his belt, discarded his braces and is standing there, embarrassed and undressed, saying to anyone who will listen ‘My trousers have fallen down!’ oblivious to his folly being completely self-inflicted and the only solution, that of pulling his own trousers up, being no-one else’s responsibility but his own.
So it is with the social care crisis brought about by the ‘sudden’ realisation that local authorities do not have sufficient income to look after the elderly. Sudden in this situation is a relative word. One must forgive the Government for something that has crept up on them unawares. After all, the people they have just discovered that they need to look after were only born seventy years or so ago. But there it is.
Now there is an obvious solution to the problem of the elderly. We should look after our own parents. They looked after us when we were young. We should look after them in their dotage.
I can already hear the screams of outrage. I do apologise. That was a suggestion which could only come from someone on the extreme right. Who could possibly endorse it? It would suggest the primary job of looking after the elderly was not the State’s, and who would want to live in such an uncaring country? It might be nearly as bad as having to live outside the EU.
Besides, there would be real practical problems. Unlike the old days when a wife at home could be joined by an elderly parent, wives today are ‘fulfilling themselves’ and ‘developing their careers’. No, one wouldn’t even dare go there, especially during this season of goodwill. It will have to be the State wot does it.
On the face of it, tending the elderly seems to be simply a manpower issue. As we have more who need looking after, we need more carers, with the inevitable cost implications. It’s actually more difficult than that. The last Chancellor of the Exchequer, and indeed the current one, wanting to look like good guys, have decided that many people should be paid more. The plan is for the minimum wage to go from £6.50 per hour at the start of this parliament to £9.30 in 2020. This 43 per cent increase is one of the factors scuppering the care sector and, indirectly, local authorities.
Irrespective of wage levels, an ageing population will need more carers. Is it inevitable that this will involve more state spending? Far from it. What it needs is the State to spend differently.
The State is already paying many of us to do nothing. There are those who are unemployed, those who have retired on state pensions and, my particular bêtes noire, far too many dossing around in education. It would do no harm at all to provide incentives to use this manpower more productively. There is, however, a problem. Care work is a 24-hour occupation and, since even unemployment for many is infinitely more comfortable than working nights or getting up very early, few indigenous Brits countenance such jobs. Any more labour will have to come from more immigration, as anyone who has a relative in a care home knows.
So what will man-with-trousers-round-ankles do?
Isn’t it obvious? We are governed by tax-and-spend liberals. His answer will be to spend more. This will drive us further into debt, make our children poorer and result in us being beholden to regimes we don’t like because they lend us money. He will also reach around for the nearest way of increasing tax revenue – council tax in this case. This takes cash out of the private sector (the sector of the economy that generates the wealth that keeps everything going) and puts into the public sector which generates nothing.
What was the word that Philip Hammond used to describe our debt? ‘Eye-watering’, I believe. One day a different man, trousers round ankles, will be surprised that it causes us problems.