My nan turns 96 today (Wednesday 18th October) but it won’t be much of a celebration. I’ll go and see her with my 73-year-old father at the care home where she resides. If she’s having a good day, nan might remember who I am – her only grandchild; I say “good day” because last time dad visited, she asked him if she’d ever had children. Despite being by now somewhat inured to nan’s fading, dad was naturally somewhat stunned, and more shocked when a care worker said nan claimed to have voted Tory all her life – she’s a lifelong socialist and Labour supporter who once showed Dennis Potter round her local group. Dementia is a miserable end, less a full stop than a trailing off…
Nan was placed in the care home when social services deemed her unfit to remain living in her own home following a fall. In the care home she had another fall and broke her hip, leading to another hospital stay; £600 continued to be extracted from nan’s account even when she wasn’t at the home, which is rather shabby and depressing, though the staff do a remarkable job.
We consider ourselves lucky that nan and granddad managed to accumulate considerable savings in the course of their 73 years of married life. Granddad was a tool-maker, nan worked in head office at Tesco, but being of that generation who grew up in the Depression then served in the war (granddad was a mechanic in the RAF) they were far from extravagant: no foreign holidays, no flash cars; granddad never learned to drive and commuted to work on a scooter. When granddad died three years ago he left a type-written note insisting on no fuss, no funeral.
Now, the money nan and granddad saved over a lifetime is draining away at an incredible rate and when it’s gone, their home will be next: the council house they agonised about buying, feeling it was morally wrong but in the end purchasing so they’d never be forced into a tower block. The house – an end of terrace on a former council estate – is far from remarkable, but in these crazy times must be worth a tidy sum. In her will nan specified that I’d receive a quarter share, along with her three children. Naturally, though I want nan (who’s no monarchist) to get a telegram from the Queen, a part of me has sometimes idly planned what I might do with my share – now it’s possible that share could be vastly reduced.
But do you know what? It’s tough. It’s not the government’s fault I was too lazy and/or unsuccessful to buy a house, that people are living longer and doctors can patch up every ailment (nan’s had cancer, heart attacks, strokes, diabetes… a tough old bird) but they can’t patch up the most complicated organism in the known universe: the human brain. Dementia now kills more old people than any other illness – but more pertinently, it can takes years, or decades, to do so. Families continue to take the strain when possible, but not all old people have children, and in many cases – such as in my family – the sufferer’s children are themselves pensioners with health problems, physically and emotionally unable to take on the daunting task of caring for a parent who may be aggressive, frail, and who may no longer recognise them.
That’s why I’m puzzled by the reaction to Conservative social care minister Jackie Doyle-Price’s comments, when she told the Social Market Foundation: “The reality is that the taxpayer shouldn’t necessarily be propping up people to keep their property and hand it on to their children when they’re generating massive care needs.” Labour, which opportunistically “leaked” the video footage, was quick to respond, with Jeremy Corbyn denouncing the “dementia tax” and promising to invest an extra £8bn per year to the NHS.
Unfortunately, it seems optimistic that £8bn per year will cover the cost of age-related illnesses in the coming decades. In any case, why should the tax-payer subsidise social care when an old person owns property? Why should a school-leaver or university graduate, no doubt hoping one day to own a home of their own, pay more in taxes so someone like me can sit on my laurels and wait for nan to die to subsidise my sedentary lifestyle?
Labour’s stance should be baffling, except of course it’s far easier to slam the government and make crowd-pleasing statements than face up to what looks set to be the biggest social challenge this country has faced for decades – far more daunting, I would suggest, than Brexit.