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Monday, 29 January, 2001, 15:31 GMT
Should the old get free care?

The Scottish Executive has come under growing pressure to implement the recommendations of its own Royal Commission on the care of the elderly after facing the prospect of a parliamentary defeat.

In March 1999, Sir Stewart Sutherland recommended that long-term care of the elderly should be free.

The Scottish Executive was accused of dragging its feet on the issue and on Wednesday announced that while free care would be extended, it would be not be universal.

But on Thursday a stunned Scottish Parliament heard Labour make an emergency statement detailing new moves - prompted by an impending backbench revolt - to bring forward new proposals for universal free care.

In England, free care will not be introduced as the government believes it will not improve front line services.

Should care for the elderly be free? Or would it be simply too costly to make such a benefit universal, regardless of a pensioner's means?

HAVE YOUR SAY Yes it should be free. However, most people in this country have double standards. They want free care for the elderly, free care on the NHS, free education throughout life, more money spent on defence Oh, and lower taxes!
Jim, UK

They have to accept that their children simply don't like paying taxes

Steve, UK
Why do so many people persist in the nave belief that taxes and National Insurance collected at any one time go towards the provision of pensions and health care in the future? They don't and never have done, but instead go towards current spending; thus it the taxes and National Insurance we are paying now that is insufficient to support all elderly people because we are too mean. Much as I sympathise with those elderly people who were conned by the "cradle to the grave" stuff after the war, they have to accept that their children simply don't like paying taxes.
Steve, UK

I believe pensioners who have worked hard all their lives and contributed National Insurance should be entitled to either free, or a substantial discount on healthcare costs in their retirement years. The rest of us should either continue to contribute to National Insurance or a personal health scheme, because by the time I need care in my retirement, the overburdened, over-managed and under-funded health service will have run out of cash for anything!
Rob, England

Bring back the link between earnings and pensions. The only reason Thatcher abolished the link was so that she could protect the interests of capitalists. The demographic argument that there are too many old people falls flat when you realise that by taxing the corporations that have been ripping us off since the 80's we'd all have a bit more to go round.
Alex, UK

As with all benefits, care for the elderly should be means-tested. We already give child benefit to parents regardless of income, and I object strenuously to this too. I pay a lot of tax now, but I don't expect to get preferential treatment when I'm older. I would object to pensioners with a reasonable income getting everything for free. We simply can't afford to do that. By all means apply a reasonable pro-rata system of payments for pensioners, but don't give our hard-earned money away to people who can afford to do without it.

It would be nice if it was free, but unfortunately it just isn't possible! In the beginning of the NHS, the taxation covered the cost (including old age care) and it was all fine and dandy. Now it no longer does because there are more elderly people, there are more treatments available, and those treatments typically cost more! The NHS can never again be fully funded by taxation, so the decision as to who to treat and who to not treat will always have to be made. Get used to it, as it is only going to get worse!
Andy G.M. Wood, UK (London)

Many aspects of the welfare state discourage people from looking after themselves. Those who are careful with money and save have to use up those savings before they can claim unemployment benefit and elderly care. We may as well blow all our money in the pub because the welfare state will look after us. There should be free care and benefits for all so those who have built up savings can keep their money. The present situation is a scandal.
Matt, England

Of course healthcare for the elderly should be free. If a person works diligently all their life paying their contribution towards NI and Income tax then they are entitled to the services that they have contributed their income towards. Furthermore I find it disgraceful that the generations that gave up so much during the war to secure our freedom and future should then have to suffer the indignity of having to pay further for their own well being. Older generations gave up so much for us, it's about time we gave them something back.
Sharon B, UK

The aged have had a raw deal for too long

Stephen Rogers, UK
Yes it should be free. The aged have had a raw deal for too long. The Government does not question free education or attempt to deny treatment to children. Why should it penalise the elderly? The Scots have demonstrated that at least one part of the UK can be motivated by other than personal greed.
Stephen Rogers, UK

No, as long as people believe that they can get something for nothing they will never attempt to help themselves
Steve Bass, UK

Yes, if there are no surviving relatives to make partial contribution towards their health care needs.!
Sofia Shums, USA

Yes elderly care should be free at the moment - those currently needing care are chronically ill and have been brought up believing that the NHS cares for them from cradle to grave. For those of us younger we should plan for our old age now, maybe a model like Germany where there is an extra % on national insurance to save towards possible care costs. Just to clear up a point from earlier, nursing care is currently greatly undervalued, it costs less than a night in a motel to occupy a bed in a nursing home for the night, and the nursing home offers full board, and qualified nursing care as well. We need to look at how we value what people do - 120/hour for a BT engineer to come and fit an extension for a phone, or 1.92 an hour for nursing care (330 a week is what the government pays independent nursing homes for the care of sick and vulnerable older people. What a kick in the teeth for the hundreds of thousands of people who work so hard caring for our older people - and yes, I am one.
Mandy, UK

We probably cannot have cradle to grave top quality services without higher taxes

Anne Monten, Australia
Aged care ought to be universally available, probably though means testing will have to apply - Australia has insufficient long term care places to meet demand, a crisis - among many crises - in health care, acute hospital care and residential care. With ageing population, in common with other Western countries, for middle aged and younger, it ought to be a major issue. We probably cannot have cradle to grave top quality services without higher taxes?
Anne Monten, Australia

The government has been forced to adopt the only morally justifiable stand on this issue out of political expediency. They saw deafeat staring themselves in the face - not only in the Scottish Parliament - but at the general election. Let's hope that the rest of the country are able to benefit from this too!
Eamonn Friar, Scotland

Yes, it should be free. The trouble is that the government collects National Insurance Contributions from us through our working lives, pretends that it is to meet our health and pension costs, and then tells us that it has spent it on other people/other things when we come to claim. If the government cannot run a properly funded scheme, with contributions invested against the day when claims must be made, then it should step aside and pass the job over to insurance companies to do the job properly.
Brian, U K

In the part of England where I live many old people are living in houses worth several hundred thousand pounds. Why should I as a taxpayer pay for their long term care so that their children can inherit vast sums of money.
C. Shepherd, UK

Where is the money coming from?

Robert Court, UK
It would be great for it to be free. But, there is a bigger dependence on the state these days. People are staying in education for longer. People are retiring earlier. People are living for longer. This means that not only are there more people depending on state money but also that less people are paying taxes. People shouldn't have to pay for basic education, health care or elderly care but where is the money coming from?
Robert Court, UK

We have a duty of care to these people regardless of the cost

Sean Clunn, UK
The duty of any government is to defend the weak and needy and not just pander to the almighty pound. We have a duty of care to these people regardless of the cost. Maybe as well people should stop looking at themselves and think how giving to the elderly will affect their lifestyle, but start to think about the fact that what we have today started with these people from yesterday.
Sean Clunn, UK

Free? How can anyone describe provision of care for the elderly who have paid in so much in NHS contributions and Tax over their lifetimes as free? It has been well paid for, financially and in every other way our elderly have contributed to giving us a society in which we know freedom. Thank you Scotland for showing sense. Come on England where are you? (or is it just not an issue which will be a vote winner at the moment?)
Liz Sim, England

What does it say about a society that values the care of its elderly at less than the cost of keeping its criminals in jail?

Ken Nolan, England
How can the present system be defended? It is nothing short of age discrimination. Moreover, the funding provided to keep means tested people in care homes amounts to less than 2.00 per hour - this cannot possibly buy the quality care our older people need and deserve. What does it say about a so-called affluent and civilised society that values the care of its most elderly vulnerable people at less than the cost of keeping its criminals in jail?
Ken Nolan, England

I totally agree that the responsibility for looking after the elderly should be born by the government. After all most of the elderly have paid their National Insurance for the whole of their working lives and should not have to use their savings to pay for residential care.

I think that the paid to the Scottish Assembly each year would more than cover the expenditure incurred. I am 80 years old and still pay income tax on my occupational pension. If I was excused that, I could put the money saved into a fund to take care of my wife and myself if the need arose.
Ray Humphrey, England

Let's hope the generations who will be responsible for looking after us in our old age are more forgiving

Sarah Beach, Australia
We are talking here about a generation who were lucky in many cases to be able to even consider buying their own home when they had a family to raise let alone own 2 cars, have foreign holidays, new TV sets, computers etc. No matter how much we complain now, we have to remember that the elderly have lived through much harder times financially than most of us will.

I'm sure they would have loved to be able to save enough money to retire comfortably and pay for their own healthcare, but unfortunately for many people this was simply not possible. It's very easy to look back and say 'They should have saved more' but the fact is that they were paying their taxes and National Insurance and didn't know that in 30/40 years time that wouldn't be enough. Let's hope the generations who will be responsible for looking after us in our old age are more forgiving - we already know that we should be saving for our retirement, but you can bet that many people won't, whether they can afford to or not.
Sarah Beach, Australia

If you believe in means-testing, then why stop at personal care for the elderly? Why not means test access to, say, cancer care for the elderly, as well. It would save a fortune. The tax and benefit system has a profound effect on people's behaviour: personal care means-testing opens up an Alice in Wonderland scenario where people are, in effect, rewarded for irresponsible behaviour. My dad didn't fight tank battles in Normandy in his youth so that a democratic government whose existence he fought to protect could presume to take his house off him when he becomes ill with the wrong disease.
Chris Atherton, UK

Whether the country can afford to give free care, I don't know, but something will have to be done. The hospital of the town where I live is now having crisis problems because so many beds are taken up by elderly people who no longer need to be there. Why? Because so many residential homes in the town have closed because the funding they receive from the government is not enough to keep them going. Yes care for the elderly should be free, but before that we have to make sure there is somewhere for them to go!
Lindsay Ponting, UK

Support within the family and family values mean less and less

Graham Peveller, Thailand
Essentially, the root of the matter is that Britain has over and during the past century created a society whereby support within the family and family values mean less and less. In essence they have moved sideways and away from the family and its responsibilities to each and all of its members. In many other countries of the world the family take responsibility and care for their elderly relatives and parents.

If Britain and its citizens condone and choose to neglect the elderly by way of the lack care and support within the extended family, then it is correct that they pay for this indirectly or otherwise. Yes the care of the elderly should be free and paid for without complaint by the taxpayer. Not one citizen should even question this.
Graham Peveller, Thailand

But it isn't free care. They've already paid for it through their National Insurance premiums.
Pete B, UK.

This isn't about free care: it is about whether or not elderly people should actually have to spend some of their money on their nursing care. If an OAP has a house or savings, why should the taxpayer cough up for their nursing care, as well as paying into their own private pension because they know the state won't be able to provide for them when they are old?
Phil Saum, UK

Just a thought - are we in England going to end up paying for this and not get it ourselves? It already happens with university education-free in Scotland and paid for mostly by English taxpayers while we have to go to the wall to pay for our own children's education.
Les, England

Disgusting. My parents have paid National Insurance all their lives, as well as crippling themselves as newly weds to buy a house. Now my Mum has Alzheimer's the only way she will get care is to sell the inheritance they set up for their children. I don't care - my parents will get the best I can afford but where did fifty years of contributions go?
Anne, UK

Yes, they should get free care

Richard, UK
Yes, they should get free care. And it should be financed through a National Insurance system. The fact is, it's going to get more and more expensive as each generation lives longer. That is why a fair and proper system is needed for finance, rather than relying on hit-or-miss private pensions etc.
Richard, UK

How could people be so callous as to deny frail elderly people the right to live out their days in peace, free from having to worry about how they are going to fare financially?
Susannah, Australia

I pay a third of my salary in taxes and do this with the understanding that it will be used for civic expenses for which I benefit: Healthcare, defence, administration, policing, infrastructure etc. I look at it as an investment in my nation's prosperity and include care of the elderly in this list of expenses. This is not a handout, it is part of a citizen's return on capital they invested in their state, and it is a right.
Michael Gahan, Ireland

You can't expect free money when you're not adding to the economy anymore

Gaby Vanhegan, UK
This is good thinking by the Government. Looking at Japan we know that in 2005 when the babyboomers begin to retire, the population will get top-heavy and there is nothing we can do about it. By forcing people into private pensions first they will get the blame, not the Government when pensions as a concept collapse. You can't expect free money when you're not adding to the economy anymore, there just aren't enough young people working the economy to float you.
Gaby Vanhegan, UK

Both my Grandfather and his neighbour have worked all their life. My Grandfather save for his old age, his neighbour did not. Now both are in a home, my Grandfather gets penalised due to his savings, whilst his neighbour does not. What incentive is there to save or invest in pensions? All pensioners should be treated the same regardless of savings/ pensions.
Caron, England

Health Service from the cradle to the grave, that's what was promised, that's what everybody has paid for and that's what should be supplied. The Government has spent a fortune on a Royal Commission - nice sound-bite politics, looks good, we have the report now let's ignore it. It gives you the impression that the elderly are not important. They are going to die off anyway, so why worry about them? Wrong, there will be a few around at the next election to remember the broken promises.
Phil Davies, UK

It absolutely should be free. I don't believe there is any debate.
Martin, London, UK

It seems like a double whammy to me

Neil Cowan, Scotland
We in Scotland are going through the "should we, shouldn't we?" in Parliament as far as free care for the elderly is concerned. It seems strange to me that people who are fortunate enough to be employed all of their working life and who pay tax and NI, should then be asked to contribute to their care when elderly. It seems like a double whammy to me.
Neil Cowan, Scotland

Yes it should be free. For the most part pensioners have worked all their lives and paid tax throughout so they should expect to be cared for when retired. After all that was the message they were brought up with - free healthcare from the cradle to the grave. It's hardly their fault if the Government has changed its mind.
Julia Smith, England

There is no such thing as 'free' care. But who should pay for it? If it is not to be the elderly then it has to be someone else. Who would be willing to foot the bill? If we are unwilling to pay extra tax for education then what chance for the elderly?
Patrick Joyce, England

People should save their money in order to become independent in their later years. Those who are able to should pay for their care. However circumstances differ and through no fault of their own, some people reach old age penniless. There should be free care for them.
E. Montoure, USA

I don't think so. Why should one person pay for something the other person doesn't have to? Old people have a working life behind them and probably much more money than most young professionals, students, pupils, poor asylum seekers or employees who have to live in expensive parts of the country because of their jobs. People who can pay, should pay!
Volker, England

We have all got to start saving very early on in life if we are not going to spend our last years in indignity

Tony, England
We are all going to get old and virtually all of us will end up needing nursing care. Unfortunately it is incredibly expensive and very few people wish to work in this very low paid profession. I can't see how the Government can ever afford to pay for everyone to have really decent care. We have all got to start saving very early on in life if we are not going to spend our last years in indignity.
Tony, England

I have no problem with it, elderly care should be provided, although I think care at home until it is no longer feasible should be the option rather than stuffing them all in special housing.
Fiona Morales, USA - British

No! I pay a small fortune in tax and National Insurance, but despite this, I'm told I have to pay ever more in to a private pension plan if I want anything when I'm older. How are people of my generation supposed to bring up their own children, provide for themselves, save for their future and pay for pensioners who didn't put anything away during their working lives. I've already had to cut back and sell one of my jags. It's simply not fair.
Neil, England

I agree. They paid taxes for the last 50 or 60 years of their lives, so let them get something in return. When I am that age I will feel I have already paid for my care through a lifetime of heavy taxation.
Owen Southwood, UK

Of course it should be free. They paid taxes for my education as a child, so why shouldn't I pay taxes to make their retirement more comfortable. They've earned that money in their pension so they should spend it on themselves, not their health. I don't have a problem with it at all.
Alex Banks, Wales/ Sweden

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25 Jan 01 | Scotland
Elderly care move 'not ruled out'
27 Jul 00 | UK
Coughing up for care
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