Tory leadership hopefuls are right to be focused on social care in later life

01 Jul 2019

Watching the first Conservative Party/Prime Minister leadership debate on Channel 4 – the one without Boris Johnson – I was struck by the fact that two of the candidates mentioned adult social care as one of their main, non-Brexit priorities should they become the next PM.

Even if the two concerned are not picking up the keys to Number 10 at the end of July, this focus on social care was instructive and perhaps shows that, for all the supposed focus on youth,  it was this appeal to the Conservative Party’s core demographic – older voters – that came to the fore.

Of course, before we even begin to look at how the next PM might seek to tackle the provision of social care in later life, and how it might be paid for, it’s important to recognise just how problematic this issue is, and outline that it’s been kicked into the long grass more times than I’ve had hot dinners.

It’s not beyond the realms of possibility, that an issue which is supposedly a priority for the new leader, doesn’t see any significant movement until 2020 at the very earliest.

Property wealth

Undoubtedly, from a private perspective, we’ve seen greater use of an individual’s property via equity release, and one has to suspect that the role of the home, when it comes to tackling both social care and all other later life needs, is only going to become more and more important.

Just this month, the Equity Release Council called for a cross-departmental Minister for the Elderly to be put in place by any new PM in order to provide a focus for all the issues that confront the elderly and those in (or moving into) later life. As advisers will know only too well, when it comes to the financial needs of those in later life, there are many varied options and solutions available, and a coherent strategy is required. Why shouldn’t this be the same for Government?

Indeed, there are issues to be addressed in housing, pensions, social care, health service provision, for everyone either planning for later life, or those already within this time in their lives. Some sort of joined-up thinking would undoubtedly be most welcome, because for too long they have been treated as silos and ultimately a decision made in one area, is likely to impact all others.

Taking a 360 perspective

Moving back to our market, it seems highly likely that property is going to play a much more fulsome part in determining the quality of life people have in retirement, and how they might pay for the growing number of financial responsibilities that will come with it. Many might feel uneasy about this – and equity release, for example, certainly won’t be right for everyone – but I sense it will be needed more and more, especially when you consider the lack of pension provision some people have, the increased likelihood of there being significant debt in retirement, the calls upon the older family members in terms of funding other generations, and (for many) simply maintaining a lifestyle.

We might still believe that previous Governments have remained somewhat aloof from the sector, and been loathe to present equity release as an official option to later life customers. That is changing, and I would presume that, it will have to continue to change in order to get more people to cope with their retirement responsibilities.

In that sense, the need for advice across all these areas – much like the need for a Minster for the Elderly – will be paramount. Advice that is truly holistic, not focused on individual silos, and is able to chart the journey for older clients by looking at all the options available to them.

We have firms that offer this at present, but not enough of them, and therefore the focus for many should be on how best they can secure their place in this sector, and how best they can offer all the products and services that their older clients will undoubtedly need.

Bob Hunt

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