The Government shouldn't be surprised local authorities need more money to look after our growing population of old people. After all, part of the problem is caused by the rise in the minimum wage.
Unfortunately, given how tough their jobs are, many care home workers have to get by on £7.20 an hour rising by 30p in April.
That's not a huge amount of money for the individual but if you add together the 1.6 million care workers in the country and give everyone a 30p-an-hour pay rise, that's virtually £1 billion.
Suddenly the minimum wage starts to look quite expensive and the money has to come from somewhere.
Given that people are living longer, councils can't save the money by cutting the service, assuming we wish to treat our elderly with a modicum of dignity.
So that means it comes either from us as taxpayers, from us as care home customers, or both.
Yet the whole sector seems like a licence to print money. For a start, councils only have to foot the bill for the care of a pensioner when the individual’s assets have been whittled down to £23,250.
Until that point, a pensioner has to find the fees out of their own pocket. That almost certainly means selling their home, if they own one, and any other assets they might possess. It means losing all their hard-earned savings leaving nothing to pass on to their children and grandchildren.
This may be fair enough, I suppose. Why should the taxpayer subsidise someone's old age just so they can hand on a legacy to their family?
But there is something dispiriting about the way a lifetime of work disappears in a matter of months. The price for growing old has never been higher.
I know of one elderly couple, confined to separate care homes 50 miles apart, whose wealth has disappeared completely. No surprise, really – their fees were £10,000 a month.
If you are poor enough for councils to meet the cost of your care, homes will
charge about £25,000 a year. Pay for it yourself and it’s £35,000-plus.
And for anyone who goes private – the majority of old people – once a home has got its claws into you, there is no escape. An elderly relative incarcerated in a BUPA care home has seen her fees soar by £199.36 a week – 25 per cent – in two years. Her fees are £51,667-a-year.
The home is nothing special. A new manager every six months means the turnover in employees is bewildering. It is never fully-staffed.
Many carers are kind, helpful and willing but lack direction and seem forgetful, if not negligent. Bad management is to blame but what can you expect if the boss changes twice a year?
In its latest ransom note, BUPA says if my relative is unhappy about the cost she’s free to go elsewhere.
This nonsense is the vilest insult of all. Where could she go? The upheaval involved would be intolerable for a frail old lady, as BUPA know only too well. That is why they can charge whatever they like. They have a captive clientele.
To make matters worse, the family is now afraid to take up arms on our relative's behalf for fear they would retaliate in some way and make her plight even worse than it is already. It’s risky even to complain when they fit her with hearing aids with flat batteries, which they do with distressing regularity.
No wonder they could afford to pay chief executive Stuart Fletcher over £2 million last year. He’s now left and finance director Evelyn Bourke, who got £1.3 million in 2015, has taken over and no doubt gets a huge pay rise. Even Labour Peer Lord Leitch, BUPA’s non-executive chairman, trousers £385,000 for his part-time job.
BUPA is allegedly a non-profit-making organisation. Yet this disgusting rip-off merchant made £278.3 million profits last year which it stuffs under the mattress to top up its reserves. It has a quite staggering £3.6 billion in the bank and still whinges about the minimum wage.
And if one organisation can be this unscrupulously grasping, no doubt many others are as well.
Luckily local authorities are in a position where collective bargaining can at least deliver better value for money than individuals get.
But it's still a costly business made worse by the fact that a three per cent council tax rise in most parts of the country raises a whole lot less than it does in the rich South East.
So where is the extra money to come from? Local taxpayers will doubtless have to cough up as usual but the Government should take a look at organisations like BUPA.
In the past, Chancellors have imposed ‘windfall’ taxes on oil companies and banks which have exploited their position in the market. If BUPA can get away with imposing fee increases on customers of its don’t-care homes, it’s time the Government did the same on its excessive profits.