28 July 2011

Planning for the future

There have been many articles recently about the bad treatment of people of pensionable age who get into care homes. Often the appalling treatment is ascribed to the fact that the home in question is privately run. There is a profit motive and this is not compatible with kindness, it is supposed. The State (I mean the taxpayers) must spend much more money on the care of the elderly.

Of course the private homes are not very private. They are an extension of the State system, and are supposed to be motivated by having a slender margin of profit. Tweaking a collectivist system in this way cannot be expected to improve it significantly. The same is true of the educational system. ‘Free’ schools, and other schemes to give parents ‘power’ within the system, will still have to conform to many requirements which will cripple any possibility of serious improvement.

The fact is that even if conditions within the homes were good instead of bad, and whoever they were run by, they would be in principle unacceptable because their inmates are deprived of their liberty.

This is the hidden snag in social benefits; all must pay for them in taxes and loss of freedom, no one may opt out.

Those who wish to opt out from having a ‘benefit’ imposed on them will be hunted down. Someone I knew, who bought something recently in Boots (pharmacist) for someone else, was asked if he was a carer. It is an infringement of liberty that one should be exposed to this sort of thing, and shops that indulge in it should be boycotted.

Now, in fact, it is impossible to buy any of a wide range of things in pharmacists without being asked, ‘Is it for yourself? Are you on any medication?’ And one is forced to reply to such questions or, I suppose, you will not be allowed to buy what you have asked for. Respect for the autonomy of the individual has declined so far that there is no sign of protest at this state of affairs. Not even mild protest in letters to the Press, let alone riots in the streets.

While there has been no outrage at the retrospective means-testing of state pensions, it is paradoxically (or dishonestly) claimed in Parliament that setting up a new tax, allegedly to pay for the capping of payment out of assets by those who get into care homes, is justified by wishing to enable people to ‘plan for their futures’. It is supposedly more important for people to know that if they are forced into a care home there will be a limit on what they are forced to pay for it, than for people to be able to rely on their pensions bearing some relation to the cost of living and not being means-tested, as for some decades they expected them to be while they contributed to them. (During those decades, I always thought it was rather mean that, after paying contributions for the pension while one was of normal tax-paying age, one should then have to pay income tax on the pension income if it were combined with any other income which one happened to have. Since it was so, one thought that the government was getting its pound of flesh to satisfy its wish to reduce everyone to the same level – which is, ultimately, complete loss of freedom of action for all.)

Planning on the basis of government assurances is impossible; the government may change its mind at any time about what pocket money it can afford to let you have.