With the post-war baby boomers now rapidly approaching retirement, the issue of social care has become an increasingly pressing issue, and one that became one of the big political footballs in the run-up to the Election period. What with the leadership debates, the volcano and – today – the gaffe, social care has rather fallen off the political agenda. But today’s TV debate provided a reminder of just how deep the ideological dividing lines are.
Forget, if you can, the froth of an election campaign. Yes, the Conservatives have been guilty of political opportunism in reducing one of Labour’s proposed attempts to plug the social care black hole to a ‘death tax’, and, yes, Labour are guilty of attempting to kick a tricky issue into the long grass. And the Lib Dems have, yes, used the age-old trick of complaining that both main parties are guilty of negative campaigning – a campaigning technique that is, in itself, negative.
And yet, running through the claims and counter-claims of the TV health spokespersons’ debate today, there is a rather fascinating ideological battle: the Conservatives are looking to solve the social care funding black hole through a private insurance scheme – and, as Andrew Lansley hinted, are seeking to extend this approach out into the area of domiciliary care. Andy Burnham, instead, set out his stall for a ‘population-wide’, ‘risk-sharing’ approach – and for population-wide, risk-sharing approaches, one needs to look no further than general taxation, even if Andy Burnham was not so careless as to admit it.
This debate is symptomatic of the relatively powerful philosophical undercurrent which is running through this Election campaign, although in water clouded by opinion polls and leadership debates it is admittedly quite difficult to see.
It is the debate between the Conservatives who, on the one hand, see faith in the multiple individual decisions which give rise to market forces – and who therefore reject the idea of state intervention – and Labour, on the other hand, who see failure in the markets and who therefore see state intervention as not only desirable, but necessary. One approach envisages private insurance working; and one approach envisages it failing – hence the need for a ‘National Care Service’.
Of course, maybe neither approach will win out in this closely-fought Election campaign. The Lib Dems, on this difficult question, believe in a ‘partnership’ model of funding – an approach which is actually more substantial than it sounds. And it is an approach which sits almost too neatly between the other two…