Public Sector: Caring for elderly set to tax us all

The way public services care for our elderly is an issue that raises huge financial challenges, enters previously uncharted demographic territory and raises difficult personal choices.

Anyone who has had to steer a parent gently away from their own home and into care will be familiar with the stresses and strains. Just as we all have to face uncomfortable, unavoidable choices as individuals, so, too, are the authorities having to face up to the realities of a social care bill that, by the year 2026, will need £6bn more than what is being spent now.

So the Government should be applauded for trying to grapple with this gargantuan, complex challenge in its social care Green Paper. Already, the paper has met with predictable accusations of a lack of financial clarity, ruling out options before they have been properly discussed, and heading down a path of insufficient consultation and limited debate.

One thing is for sure: this issue is so complex - an unusually knotty combination of national policy, personal sentiment and individual circumstance - that debate needs to be conducted at the right level, in the right way, for as many of us as possible to feel the right solution has been found.

Framing the discussion in a clear, unbiased and apolitical way will be the only way to achieve significant progress towards this goal. Constructive consultation, conducted in a sensitive and inclusive way, will be vital. National government, local authorities, regulators and the charitable sector, especially those communicating the message, have a duty to ensure this does not disintegrate into a political bun fight that leaves one of the most vulnerable parts of our society uncared for.

There will be a lot of hot potatoes tossed to and fro over the next few months as politicians return from their holidays, party conferences get under way and electioneering starts in earnest. But few issues will test public bodies - and their communicators - quite so severely as the debate about personal choice, public finances and the stark realities of end-of-life care.

- Luke Blair is a director of at the London Communications Agency.

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