How we pay for care when we are old is a key policy issue right now, and is only going to grow more important as our ageing population pushes the costs upwards. The government recently announced its proposals on the funding of care, in response to the Dilnot Commission, suggesting a cap, but at a higher level than the Commission proposed. Labour also see the system and funding of social care as a key policy issue, with their review focusing on greater integration between health and care services, echoing Andy Burnham’s previous discussions of a National Care Service.
The British Social Attitudes question on people’s preferences for funding residential care is therefore very relevant to the debate. It only goes back to the late-1990s, but that is long enough to see some clear patterns. It is also a very basic question; it’s usually best to avoid asking direct questions on whether the government or individuals should pay for something, as the answer is almost always the government. But again, it is still useful, because we are more interested in the trends and differences between generations.
So it’s not surprising that, overall, the large majority agree the government should fund residential care – and this barely shifted between 1998 and 2010 (it’s gone from 78% to 76%).
But one key generational point stands out: generation Y are more likely to say it is the individual’s responsibility than other generations. Three in ten of the youngest generation are of that view, which is twice the level seen in the pre-war and baby boomer generations (with generation X somewhere in between).
This adds to the picture of generation Y having a different, more individualised view of responsibilities, as we have seen elsewhere in this analysis.
As with other aspects of our generational analysis, it is difficult to entirely untangle lifecycle effects (i.e. the fact that generation Y are just younger, and so not thinking about this yet for themselves or their parents) from a true generational shift – and there may be elements of both.
But the comparison with generation X’s view when they were younger is useful; generation X had lower levels of support for individual responsibility in 1998, when they were a similar average age to generation Y now (26 years compared with 24 years), and were much closer to the other generations. This suggests there is something different in outlook among generation Y.
There are many possible reasons for this, but two seem most likely given the other analysis so far. Generation Y has grown up with a much weaker conception of the welfare state than previous generations, and therefore do not have that connection to how the system “should” work. And related to that, their own direct experience of state support is more limited (for example, they have increasingly needed to pay for their own education) and the broader economic context is tougher, leading people to expect to have to look out for themselves.
We should not overplay this difference, as there is still a clear majority of generation Y in favour of the government leading. But it does point to a need for a new approach that takes account of this more individualised outlook when discussing care and welfare with young people – and perhaps opens up different solutions for the future.
But any discussions with the public on the future of care and support are very difficult, because it is not something people consider in advance of needing it, and there are significant information gaps and contradictions in opinion. As our review of attitudes for the Dilnot Commission shows, a large proportion of the public simultaneously agree that it is their responsibility to save to pay for their care and that if they need care in the future, it will be free! This is just one of the many reasons that the challenges on the future of care and support remain so intractable.