This week we’ve had a bit of stooshie (several steps short of a stramash) over a legal ruling in relation to the policy of Free Personal Care in Scotland. Now I accept that this is the field that I work in, and therefore, my musings here may be of interest to no-one but me. Two key issues emerge for me from this week’s events.
Firstly, the Scottish Government was criticised by the judge (admittedly in very polite, legal code) for not accepting his invitation to attend the hearing and explain the intention that lies behind the legislation. This criticism was seized upon by political opponents as a dereliction of duty etc, etc.
I’m glad that the Government didn’t send a representative to the court. As I understand it our legal system is built around an independent judiciary, making judgement on the basis of the legislation passed by Parliament. Any move toward Government explaining its intentions in court seem to me to be a dangerous erosion of the process and could be exploited for all sorts of political purposes. Instead, the legislature should make sure that the statutes that they pass are carefully worded to ensure that the policy intentions are adequately and competently described.
In other words – politicians should do their jobs properly, then the courts can do theirs.
Secondly, and something that I’ve been concerned about since this policy was introduced. Free Personal Care is not new and it’s not free. It’s not new since the provision of social care in this country is based on assessed needs, not ability to pay. The amount that anyone is asked to contribute towards the cost of the care provided to them is then (and only then) assessed according to their financial situation. For the poorest people this means that care has (generally) always been free. The advent of the current ‘flagship’ policy has meant that the more affluent users of care services have received more subsidy from the state. I’m not saying that this is a bad thing in itself, it’s just that the language used in this area is misleading.
For my tuppence-worth, I’d like to see our politicians refraining from political ambushes and one-up-manship and asking the big questions about the provision of care.
- Do we want to be socially progressive in this area?
- If so, should all care be truly free?
Then, when we’re clear about the way forward, we can amend the legislation so that it does what it says on the tin – without the need to explain the underlying intentions.