Magazine article Public Finance

A Moral Argument Is a Losing One

Magazine article Public Finance

A Moral Argument Is a Losing One

Article excerpt

A persistent mistake in public services is to assume that a moral majority translates into a political one. The evidence is on your side, the finances all add up - or don't, depending on your point - and the consequences are dire. How can the government not act? Then silence. You have stared into the abyss, impact analysis in hand, only to have the abyss stare back. Why?

The short answer is that a perfect argument often fails not because it sends ministers but voters to sleep. While many may cry foul over the state of social care, how many actually vote on it? My guess is a lot less than you think.

As frontline services go, social care is a minority breed. Adult social care provides services to around 1.3 million people a year; the NHS deals with more than three million patients a week. To put this in perspective, social care serves 2% of the UK population or, more tellingly, one in nine of those aged over 65. The answer is in the numbers; eight out of nine pensioners don't use social care and, if you're not using a service, there'll be something more salient that a politician can offer you. Most of us vote selfishly: why should the elderly be any less prone to avarice than the rest of us? Free bus pass or TV licence?

Social care's weakness isn't a lack of lobbying or evidence - it's the voters. There is no solidarity on the issue. Even the grey vote cannot coalesce around this and politicians know it. The government doesn't want the system to collapse - and I believe ministers are committed to social care - but the incentives to reform it aren't strong. So we shovel just enough cash in each year to keep it going, like the last sticks of dried wood on a dying fire.

This year's shovel is the same as last year's - the social care precept. This levy, which councils raise on top of council tax, is a welcome move, but it won't be enough. …

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