Lib Dem MP, and former Minister, Paul Burstow has been hitting the headlines big-time today. He has been sharing his ideas with us on two policy areas - which for some illogical reason he has linked. But I must admit, it seems to have worked rather well in that it has generated some terrific headlines. The two issues are interesting enough to instigate this blog post.
Firstly, Paul is proposing that some support payments for the elderly should become means tested. He knows this cannot happen before the next General Election, so I'm not sure why he's raised the issue today. No doubt it will be an issue for parties to consider as preparing manifestos for the 2015 election. I would be deeply disappointed if the Prime Minister were to go back on his firm promise that these benefits would not be changed during the current Parliament. I also feel there should be detailed debate on the implications of such a policy change. I don't like means testing in principle. It disincentivises people from improving their own position, encourages behavioural activity which seeks to understate income, and carries significant administration costs. The pressure on Gov't to cut public spending is driving the means testing agenda - but I just don't like it, and don't support it unless it makes a significant and clear difference..
Another thing I don't like is the 'hypothecation' principle in Gov't spending that underpins today's publicity. Each Gov't decision should be justified on their merits, and not as justification for some other totally unconnected policy change. Its just about presentation. In today's instance, its served the purpose and secured a lot of publicity - but its led to confused debate. The two issues will have to be decided separately. Which brings me to the second.
There is no doubt in my mind that UK Gov'ts over a long period have not addressed the consequences of an ageing population. We are not looking after those who have become frail and vulnerable in our ever-ageing population. Many changes, some involving cost to the Treasury are needed. One of them is Gov't response to the Dilnot Report, which recommends a cap on care home costs - subject of Paul Burstow's comments today. We are anyway expecting an announcement on this in the imminent Mid Term Review (programme for the 2nd half of the current parliament). We need more investment in palliative care, more support for dementia, and a whole lot else as well.
Even though I cannot see the logic of linking two separate issues as Paul Burstow has done today, I think its terrific that he's put the need for greater support for the elderly on the front pages.