Leaders: Somebody has to pay for free personal care
IT COULD be argued the phrase “free personal care for the elderly” is a misnomer. After all, somebody has to pay, at some point in the process.
That somebody, in the case of this flagship policy of the devolutionary era, is the Scottish taxpayer. Yesterday’s figures on the cost of free personal care make clear just how fast that cost is rising, and the alarming rate at which it will keep on rising in the years ahead.
The free personal care policy has taken on something of a talismanic property, often used as proof of the distinctiveness of Scottish values and Scottish political debate. But we should not be scared to discuss this policy and its implications.
Whatever side of that debate we are on, it must be accepted that with budgets under pressure, money spent on free personal care is money that cannot be spent on social needs elsewhere.
There does, however, seem to be a view in Scotland that this is a policy that does say something about us as a society and as a country – it is about the kind of Scotland we want to be. What better measure of the decency of a society is there than the way it treats its elderly when they are at their most vulnerable and unable to look after themselves?
A clearer view of the consequences of such a view should not, however, be shied away from. At what point do individuals cease to be responsible for themselves and the state takes over? What about the responsibility of families to look after elderly relatives? Should a wealthy individual – capable of making a contribution and likely to live longer than a poor person – be required to contribute some of the inheritance they would otherwise be leaving to their children? Or does this amount to a tax on old age?
Free personal care for the elderly was a policy born in good economic times, when it seemed to politicians to be not only eminently just, but also eminently affordable.
A decade later, Scotland’s finances are unrecognisable, and prospects for the future are gloomy in the extreme. Are we happy for free personal care to take up an increasingly big slice of an ever-decreasing pie?
If the answer to this is yes, and we decide that this is a policy we want to retain, as a badge of honour for our nation, then we should be prepared to say what will be sacrificed to pay the bills. With so many demands on scarce resources, and with services now under threat which a decade ago were regarded as a given, that is a reasonable question to ask of our politicians.
In about two years, new powers slated for the Scottish Parliament will add another factor to this dilemma. The new powers give Holyrood more control of income tax and property tax. If Scotland, as a nation, wants free personal care for its elderly, is it prepared to pay more tax for the privilege? And if so, would that tax fall on income, or on wealth in the form of bricks and mortar?
We are free to choose this policy, but this policy is not free.
We must do what we can
WATER, water everywhere – and this year more than ever. New data confirm that the vast mass of Arctic sea ice has shrunk to its lowest level since records began. Evidence of global warming? Depends on which side of an
increasingly polarised argument you find yourself on.
It seems clear the world is getting hotter. The debate about whether this is as a result of greenhouse gas emissions, or simply a natural blip that will subside over time, is one for another day.
The more useful argument is whether we can do anything to ameliorate it.
Towards the latter part of the 20th century and at the start of the 21st, environmentalism looked to be the coming issue – both in the concerns of ordinary citizens and in the discussions of statesmen. Since the start of the global economic downturn, however, it has moved from centre stage. Rightly or wrongly, it has been regarded as of secondary importance, as nations have become preoccupied with reviving their flagging economies.
The recent Earth Summit in Rio, billed as the most important international gathering on the environment for 20 years, passed without the presence of key leaders and was regarded as a something of a damp squib.
Those who argue that human action is futile in the face of
immutable natural forces, or that the contribution of small nations to the fight has no effect, may be right, they may be wrong. It is impossible to prove whose argument will win out (although, for obvious reasons, we should hope it’s the latter). In the meantime, it is not good enough to shrug and do nothing. We must do what we can, as everyone should.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Friday 24 May 2013
Temperature: 2 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 21 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 5 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West