The Garrulous Jay – The Dialogue Deficit

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I attended a Later Life Planning Conference this week. At it I was reminded of the appalling deficiencies in the later life social care systems across the UK. But there is a potentially greater sin of omission that receives less attention.

As I have written before, the provision for later life social care across the UK is not fit for purpose. Whether one lives in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales – where the systems fall under the jurisdiction of different bodies – later life social care is underfunded and insufficient.

In England, for example, there’s been a political fixation with capping the amount individuals should have to spend on their own care, instead of any serious attempt to address the more fundamental problems which are driven by an ageing population, rising medical costs and an over-burdened NHS.

Understandably, this has compelled people to seek private solutions, but these don’t come cheap. According to Age UK, on average it costs around £800 a week for a place in a care home and £1,078 a week for a place in a nursing home, but this figure includes Local Authority funded homes. With male residents staying an average of 3.9 years, and females 5.3 years (Source: ONS), even that implies an average cost range of £162,400 to £296,450.

The older generation and their children share a common anxiety that what they thought was their legacy, will end up being eaten away by care fees.

But there is perhaps a bigger deficit that exists, and one which may accentuate the scale of both the financial and psychological problems caused by the challenges of later life, and that’s a deficiency of dialogue.

The reluctance of family members to talk to one another about the issues surrounding later life care, the setting in which it is to be given, and how it might be funded can only make matters worse.

This is particularly true across generations. Elderly parents may be concerned about relinquishing control, uncomfortable disclosing information which they have been accustomed to keeping to themselves, or simply reluctant to admit they need help. Their children may not wish to broach the subject for fear of disagreement or “how it may look”.

Opening up a dialogue and, equally importantly, doing so as early as possible, can both increase the opportunities for planning whilst also potentially decreasing the level of anxiety felt across the generational boundaries.

The financial services industry is alive to the challenges presented by later life care. In response a range of products and services have been developed to meet the needs of those seeking to plan for it. These are sometimes offered in conjunction with consultancy services that help people to navigate the complexities of the state social care system, or provide guidance on the best available care settings for individuals based on considerations such as age, budget and requirements.

As with so many things in life, as Bob Hoskins used to say, “It’s good to talk!”