Britology Watch: Deconstructing \’British Values\’

13 May 2008

Campaign for Plain England No. 7: social care – but where?

Just had a listen to GB’s 4.30-minute long speech yesterday, introducing the British government’s consultation on social care in England. At least, I assume it related to England only, for two reasons: 1) England is the only ‘part of the country’, as GB would say (and did say, in fact – but I’ll come on to that) where the Scottish-elected PM has any say over social care; and 2) the BBC and other media reports – to their credit – did state up front that the consultation was designed, in the BBC’s words, to “reform the social care system for England’s ageing population” – which does rather make it sound as though ‘England’s ageing population’ are making themselves an increasing nuisance and causing an inconvenient budgetary shortfall, in contrast to a more neutral phrase that could have been used, like ‘social care for the elderly in England’.

In passing, a brief description of those reforms as outlined yesterday: the usual New Labour mix of no new money from the public purse for England, coupled with incentives for individuals to save for their later social-care needs (so they don’t have to sell the family silver to pay for it – but they’ll still have to pay for it); plus more ‘efficient’ (cost-effective) co-operation between the health and social services, and more help to assist people to lead independent lives at home (less of a burden on social services, although probably many people would genuinely benefit from that until their condition becomes too debilitating).

So I had to gather from the context that the reforms being proposed related to England only: GB certainly didn’t say so. Yes, not a dicky bird on England: not one single measly mention of the ‘E’ word from the unelected Scottish English First Minister. However, I did spot a particularly pernicious circumlocution that just about summed it up. As usual with GB’s utterances, you had to be alert to pick up on it, as he passed quickly on. The offending passage, about three minutes into the speech, was:

“We know that differences in entitlement between different areas of the country create uncertainty and anxiety for people when they are most vulnerable. Of course, those who have the most need are given the most support”.

What are these ‘differences in entitlement between different areas of the country’? This can mean only the difference between the entitlement to free social care in Scotland compared with the means-tested systems in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. GB tries to gloss over this in the second sentence I’ve quoted by implying that the ‘difference in entitlement’ is the same as the means-tested system itself, which ensures that ‘those who have the most [financial as well as care] need are given the most support’. But there isn’t a ‘difference in entitlement’ between different areas in England: everyone has the same level of entitlement relative to means. By contrast, the difference in entitlement in Scotland is not proportionate to individuals’ means or care needs: all elderly people who are thought to need personal or nursing care in Scotland are offered it free of charge regardless of means or the severity of their condition.

As a result, GB is reiterating two deceits here: 1) that the Barnett Formula, which guarantees the higher levels of public expenditure in Scotland that enable the provision of free personal care there, is a reflection of genuine social need and of greater poverty in Scotland; 2) that his remit as PM in the social-care area extends to ‘the country’ (the whole of the UK) and not just England. So he can try to make out that he is a reasonable UK PM trying to ensure a fair distribution of stretched public finances across the whole of ‘the country’, rather than a Scottish-elected PM who needs to make the English social-care budget stretch as far as possible so as to subsidise the superior and more expensive system for his constituents. Well, us wealthy, property-owning English shouldn’t whinge so much, should we? We should be glad that we do have assets we can sell to pay for our social care – unlike so many of our northern cousins, apparently – and if we’re worried about the future, we should just save for it now like the thrifty Scots!

Approval ratings:

  • BBC: four out of five – well done for being up front about the fact that the measures related to England only. Docked one point for suggesting it was almost the ‘fault’ of the ageing English population that the public purse for social care was so stretched – rather than the truth, which is that the English would probably be more than happy to pay for better social care through their taxes if they were given a democratic say in the matter, as opposed to wasting many more billions on futile fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, for instance.
  • GB: zero – say England when you mean it, man!
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