There is evidence that attitudes toward the plight of the elderly are changing. After the Government’s announcement of reforms to the Pension System and its proposed cap on the cost Social Care news over the last 2 months has been far less favourable to older people.
Recent Political Comments of the Elderly
The Government set the tone when Iain Duncan Smith suggested, toward the end of April, that wealthy pensioners should repay the universal benefits that they receive (without apparently checking whether there was a mechanism to actually do this!). Mr Duncan Smith was quickly joined by Vince Cable who questioned whether it was right for wealthy pensioners to be receiving these benefits at all.
Seeing the two parties of the Coalition joining together in less way appears to have spurred the Labour-leaning think tank, the Fabian Society into issuing a report which suggested that pensioners were significantly underpaying tax that they would have had to pay had special allowances not been available. Following on from this the Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls indicated that a future Labour Government would end universal benefits for the elderly and return to a more means tested system.
In addition to these thoughts on policy reviews influential Select Committees in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords have demanded that individuals make better provision for their old age.
Of course, the demographic changes that are affecting this and many other countries have long been the subject of debate. There is no doubt that health services, social services and company pension schemes (or those that survive) are under increasing pressure as a result of the ageing population. However the recent political comments may suggest a more fundamental change. In these austere days, as many working families see their living standards decline and suffer actual reductions in their income some are beginning to resent what they see as the preferential treatment given to the elderly. Everyone is agreed, for example, that Social Care needs to be paid for. Those younger people who are struggling to get onto the housing ladder as a result of the high prices of property are questioning why the elderly should not be required to pay the cost of their Social Care from the very significant amounts of capital that they have accrued as a result of that very same property price inflation.
Similarly the argument from many of the elderly that they contributed to the state coffers throughout their working life and upon retirement should be entitled to a reasonable return for these contributions is also falling on stony ground so far as some young people are concerned. They point out that these contributions were spent by successive Governments during the older people’s working life. Indeed, as we now are all very aware Government spent more than the amount of the contributions, saddling the younger generation, as many of them see it, with significant debts.
There was a time when politicians were extremely cautious about criticising older people, or suggesting that there might be any reduction in their entitlement to assistance. Indeed the political parties fought to promise ever greater generosity in this sphere (whether they actually delivered, or not). This consensus seems to be disappearing. In a recent interview the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg described as ridiculous the idea that a pensioner living in Spain should still be entitled to an annual heating allowance.
The effectiveness of the Social Care Costs will be very dependent upon the way in which those costs are defined. It has already been mooted that only those costs incurred as a result of most severe difficulties will be covered and if that is the case it is likely that very few will benefit. Recent comments from politicians of all persuasions appeared to suggest that this is far from unlikely.
The Real position for most Elderly people
At the same time the actual plight of older people is certainly not getting any easier. As Age UK pointed out in response to the Fabian Society’s report, the overwhelming majority of the elderly are definately not wealthy.
Those who listened to the distraught sobs of an elderly lady lamenting the failure of her Carers to bring her meals and perform other tasks, recently given widespread coverage on the media cannot, surely have failed to be moved. At the same time reports in both the Guardian newspaper and on the Radio 4 programme Money Box suggested that even where elderly people have signed Lasting Powers of Attorney they are continuing to experience difficulties because of the failure, in particular of the Banks, to have properly trained and experienced staff who understand the nature of such documents.
The reality is that the lot of the elderly is unlikely to improve significantly at any time in the near future. Understanding the complex benefits and taxation rules that apply is likely to become increasingly important, as is making sure that your affairs are as organised as possible.