The rising costs of health and social care are an ever present but rarely acknowledged background to the end-of-life debate raging at the moment, and with the General Election expected on 6 May, the debate about social care funding has become particularly heated.
Eighteen charities including Carers UK, Age Concern and Help the Aged, and the Alzheimer's Society wrote to The Times on 13 February (1) calling for an end to 'partypolitical squabbling' and seeking a consensus on reform of social care that 'delivers long-term solutions that will not be reversed by changes in government or in the economic climate'. At a major meeting on 19 February attended by charities, providers, council chiefs, and politicians (but boycotted by the Conservative Party) the government was advised to back a compulsory fee to pay for social care. (2) The Tories had dubbed this a 'death tax' and produced a controversial poster of a tombstone engraved 'R.I.P. OFF' with the slogan 'Now Gordon wants £20,000 when you die'.
The problem is not new. In 1999 a Royal Commission recommended that personal care and nursing care be provided free at the point of need, (3) but Scotland (implementing this under devolved powers) found costs unexpectedly doubled between 2003-4 and 2007-8. (4) Whatever party manifestos finally say, and whatever the outcome of the General Election, there is certainly going to be 'no quick fix'. Meanwhile the British Medical Association has begun an aggressive political campaign about the funding and management of health costs which has the overwhelming support of doctors. Their slogan 'Look after our NHS – publicly funded, publicly provided' introduces opposition to NHS market reforms and asks not just where does the money come from, but who spends it? (5)
CMF members will make their own choices in voting, but will also have to work with the consequences of decisions to be taken. We will be guided by scriptures like 'Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you' (6) and 'Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…' (7)