Reliance on the market is misplaced - Planning for an older population

There are myriad examples of how that vague, mercurial entity “the market” has not delivered on the promise of the better future its champions assured us was inevitable once we placed our faith in investors and entrepreneurs. 

Competition, they promised, was the catalyst that would turn the tide and lift all boats. Our housing crisis, our struggling two-tier health service, runaway insurance costs — not to mention the unaccountable tech giants and the banks — and the blank-cheque broadband fiasco show how misplaced that optimism was and is.

There were few champions of the market more certain — unhinged if you prefer — than Margaret Thatcher. However, 40 years after she became Britain’s prime minister academics conclude that the consequences of her policies, ones that devasted swathes of Britain, were a driving force behind the vote to quit the EU. 

That Britain has five of the poorest regions in the EU shows how wrong Thatcher was even if that sorry fact may help explain the unexplainable vote of June 2016. Her legacy is as shaming as its failure is indisputable.

Even if these examples show how very unwise it is to buy the idea that the market is always a force for good we persist with the hope that it will deliver on well-flagged and growing social obligations. 

The decision to change the terms of the nursing homes Fair Deal scheme to allow farmers enjoy the protection of a new cap on care contributions is another example of our hope that private businesses will fill social service needs. 

Whether this is prferential treatment or not is a question for another day but is a reminder that there is a growing need for nursing home care. This was recognised when tax incentives were offered to encourage expansion in the sector. Whether that investment keeps pace with the needs of an aging population is an open question. 

So too is the level of service provided across the sector.

This has been recognised in new guidelines aimed at making care contracts more transparent so elderly people or their families do not face unexpected “top-up” charges for services that seem basic rather than additional. 

Two years ago, an investigation concluded that more than 300 nursing homes charged over €16m a year in add-on charges for social activities, games, or various therapies. 

Age Action Ireland described a case where a woman was charged close enough to €100 a week in excess fees. 

A Government review was promised two years ago but it has not been published, at least partially because many nursing homes have not co-operated. Reliable social partners indeed.

Last September the Department of Finance warned that our aging population will cause a huge increase in public debt. 

That report foresaw massive increases in age-related costs and warned policy changes are needed. That these alarm bells ring so loudly in a country with a two-tier, if not a three-tier, system of pension provision shows the scale of the challenge. 

Anyone who believes the market, a mechanism that prioritises profit, will fill that need in a way that offers dignity and comfort to old people, is as deluded as those Tories who imagined Thatcher a saviour.

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