Monday, 30 May 2011

The Failure of Nationalised Compassion

It has been revealed that 800,000 people believed to be in need of social care find themselves excluded from the system and unable to pay for their own private provision. With an ageing population and spending cuts due to come into effect, this figure is likely to rise to over 1 million, according to campaign groups which include Age Uk.

This should not really surprise anyone - the system which many were raised to believe existed, namely that where the state would provide 'from cradle to grave' has been collapsing around us in the last few years anyway. The students who protested against the tuition fees increase in London last year did so because they had been led down the garden path of expectation. An unsustainable model of "you can have whatever you want and someone else will pay for it" finally toppled over as Britain found itself amongst the worst-placed to recover from the international economic turmoil.

Watching those riots on TV was a bit like witnessing a bunch of children who had all found out simultaneously that Santa Claus did not exist. I feel sorry for them because of this, not for the reasoning that statists would use to portray them as 'the future' and as some sort of modern equivalent of the suffragettes. We can have as many arguments about 'cuts' as we want, but I suspect the conversation will be akin to a cat chasing its own tail until the reality is widely understood. There is no rational explanation for sending half the population to university. Too many students, too many bullshit courses, and not enough people coming out of Higher Education with a skill that is applicable to the real world. The solution is simple - send far fewer people to university, and then we can have a much calmer discussion about funding.

Anyway, enough of the young - back to the very old and a BBC story on the subject. The report pointed out that increases in funding for social care had increased by a 'mere' 0.1% in real terms while other state departments such as the NHS had received much more generous settlements. This had forced local councils into tightening their eligibility criteria and focussing their resources on the most needy cases to the detriment of those requiring 'fair to moderate care'. Now the way that is written is of course an invitation to the rest of us to say - "Oh my god - some of these people fought in wars. We MUST increase spending on social care - hey, put up my taxes if you want." In fact, one contributor to the piece offers this insight on the subject:-

"We are a society that has become too busy to look after and respect its own ageing family members As individuals we should be willing to pay extra tax to fund proper state care. Mobility of labour, as required in the capitalist economy, is not compatible with the idea of an extended family in close geographical contact. The days of families looking after the old have gone. Sad but true"

Well-intentioned people like this reader have been suckered over time by the nationalised compassion that has become the norm in modern Britain. There is always a mythical "they" that should be able to resolve every issue and any undesirable situation, regardless of the complexities or nuances involved. If that means throwing further quantities of the 'collective cash pool' at the problem, then so be it. Taking on board the point raised above, it is indeed true that people are now working harder than they ever have for relatively poor take-home rewards. However, in reality this owes more than anything to the burden of spending almost half of the calendar year working for the universal nanny. The gradual slide of 'freedom day' through the month of May and now into early June is largely because of the notion subscribed to by many that the state (ie the taxpayer) must provide ample cover for every last one of life's possible complications.

Moreover. not only does the social care crisis represent further evidence that the statist model does not work, it also poses a question over whether nationalised compassion (in those instances when it can be delivered) is actually fit for purpose. Given a choice between a state employee who is merely 'doing their job' and a relative or close friend who might actually give a shit about my welfare, I'd politely tell the apparatchik that his or her 'services' are not required and trust the person who has earned it over time. I suspect that I am not alone in this, and that a great many would both help and wish to be helped by someone who could practice real compassion, not the one-size-fits-all nanny state version of it that millions have sadly come to expect as 'normal'. If only we weren't out working ridiculous hours to first pay for a failed state system then keep a roof above their heads, then who knows? We might just be able to find the time and the means to provide care more suited to the needs of the individual.

Of course, there will always be cases of ageing people who need looking after and perhaps do not have a close family to call upon. Perhaps they will also fall through the cracks of private charities , who are a part of this conversation that appear to have been missed out altogether. All of the anecdotal experience of our own lives shows us that people who get involved in something because they feel strongly about it deliver better results and are more conscientious towards the task than those who see it as their take on the grind of nine til five. Of all of the state monopolies that have existed since the Second World War, the attempt to take sole ownership of humanity and care for others is perhaps the one that has been based on the most flawed and disingenuous premise.

We will always need some form of taxpayer-funded care for those elderly who lack the resources or the committed people around them to arrange it themselves. But it is doing our ageing population a disservice to pretend that this is a desirable solution across the board. Care needs to be restored to those who genuinely feel it for the person who is struggling to cope. This means freeing up their time and money by first accepting that the existing model of nationalised compassion has failed.


  1. Spot on analysis.

    I would take small issue with the last paragraph. I am confident that the well developed charities which will come with progressive dismantling of welfarism, and an insurance backed fund for the most vulnerable could manage the needs of those without means. Leaving the state and taxpayers out of it.

  2. I would hope you were right Mal - I would think no more than a minimalist safety net would be needed as a last resort but hopefully those cases would be very few and far between.

  3. A safety net is essential, but it shouldn't come from the state and taxpayers.

    Just like the Motor Insurer's Bureau has a fund to compensate people injured by uninsured drivers and ABTA finances holidaymakers whose travel companies have collapsed there should be a fund to treat the people who are entirely unable to make their own arrangements.

    Charities will also be encouraged to cover exceptional needs in a very low tax society where there is no expectation of state intervention.