Time for a grown-up discussion about our ageing societyby George Magnus / June 18, 2018 / Leave a comment
It would be churlish not to welcome the government’s plan for the NHS to receive an additional £20bn by 2023. Yet there is something about the announcement that smacks of both deceit and desperation.
Much has been made already as to Theresa May’s preposterous repetition that the extra money would derive from the “Brexit dividend” as well as from unspecified new taxes. I won’t dwell on this here as the notion of a Brexit dividend has already been widely panned. The “Brexit dividend” would be better branded a “Brexit cash call,” since companies pay dividends out of profits and issue cash calls when they need to raise money. Brexit will yield only net costs, not net savings, and because all of us as taxpayers will effectively finance any extra NHS spending, this seemingly innocuous branding is important to get right.
A proper discussion about the challenges the NHS and care systems face and how they can be properly funded cannot be held often enough. It is probably one of the most important non-Brexit issues of our time. Given this, the government’s announcement deserves scrutiny. National demand for adequately funded healthcare and social care needs to be considered not only over a five-year time horizon, but over a much longer period. The respected Institute for Fiscal Studies has spelled out the realitiesof future healthcare spending. In this sense, time, the government still seems rudderless when it comes to a sensible strategy.
The key issue for our health and social care systems is the scale of the ageing society problem, which, as I have highlighted before, is unprecedented. We have no templates as to how to prepare for or manage the consequences, and know only that the status quo arrangements we have are not up to the task.
Between now and 2050, it is predicted that the UK population will grow by about 15 per cent, or a compound rate of 0.4 per cent per year. Funding the NHS if the economy is growing at 1.5 per cent a year isn’t rocket science, though that would still entail significant political questions about new sources of tax revenues and how to prioritise public spending.
Yet ageing makes it all more complicated. The age group over 65 will grow three times as…