Jeff Salway: Dithering over hard choices is a doddle for Dave
DAVID Cameron came back from his summer holidays chuntering on about cutting through the dither that’s apparently holding Britain back.
I wondered exactly what he meant; this week his government offered a couple of timely pointers.
Take the Dilnot report on long-term care funding, published last year and immediately hoiked into the long grass. The report focuses on reforming the system in England and may not seem to have much relevance to Scotland, which went through a similar process with the Sutherland report more than a decade ago.
As the cost of providing care continues to soar, however, Scotland will inevitable need to return to the issue and the Dilnot report may prove instructive. It proposed a £35,000 cap on care bills, above which the government would cover the cost at a price of an estimated £1.7 billion a year (with new insurance products helping ease the load).
Long-term care funding needs quick action, given the scale of the crisis, yet George Osborne was accused by an ex-health minister this week of having “no sense of urgency”.
The government lacks the political will to tackle the issue, with the result that more people face losing their homes to pay for their care.
Norman Lamb, the new care services minister down south, is apparently in “no rush” to push through the reforms and refuses to talk timetables.
I think that might be what Cameron meant by dithering.
If that’s not enough, how about his cold feet over plans for a universal pension, which features a £140-a-week flat-rate pension. It’s far from perfect but it removes the need for means testing and is a key piece in the pensions reform jigsaw, particularly automatic enrolment into workplace pensions, which starts next month.
But Cameron and his Chancellor are apparently getting jittery about the project. As with long-term care funding, they’ve looked at the cost to the government and found it unpalatable. So much for the hard work and difficult choices that Cameron has wittered on about since taking office. But when it comes to dithering, he knows exactly what he’s talking about.
WHEN Barclays is the only bank still offering accounts to bankrupts you know we’re living in strange times.
The Co-operative, the bank that takes great pride in an ethical stance setting it apart from the rest of the high street names, has decided it will no longer provide basic bank accounts to undischarged bankrupts.
That leaves Barclays alone in providing basic banking to undischarged bankrupts – those declared bankrupt in the past 12 months – through its cash card account.
There are legal concerns over providing accounts to undischarged bankrupts, with banks exposed to action by creditors. And the Co-op claimed it had no option but to act because of an uneven playing field in which its share of the basic banking market was disproportionate.
A valid point it may be, but the move is a badly timed blow.
People go through bankruptcy for all sorts of reasons. Some as a result of their own fecklessness, but most after circumstances have conspired against them. Basic bank accounts play a key role in helping them recover from bankruptcy and offer a vital helping hand to anyone frozen out of mainstream financial services.
A bank account is essential to getting a job, renting a flat and paying bills, yet more than a million people in the UK are without one. Only this week we learned that almost one in ten older people don’t have a current account. Research by the International Longevity Centre and Age UK revealed that older people are the most likely to be excluded from financial products, particularly those from ethnic minorities.
In Europe there are moves afoot to enshrine bank accounts as a basic human right. In the UK, in contrast, our biggest banks are neglecting their social responsibilities and reneging on their alleged commitment to financial inclusion.
State-backed Lloyds Banking Group and Royal Bank of Scotland were recently urged by MPs to rethink restrictions on their basic bank accounts that prevent holders from accessing cash machines other than their own.
The Treasury Select Committee warned that unless the banks changed their stance, other providers are likely to restrict access to ATMs. The Co-op’s move suggests the TSC may be right – if the costs of providing basic banking are unevenly spread, it’s inevitable that some providers will rethink their position.
Banks have made decent progress in financial inclusion over the past decade. However, it seems they’re now in a race to the bottom that could undo all that good work just when they should be mindful of their social responsibilities.
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Monday 20 May 2013
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