The economist Will Hutton, forensic in his dissection of the continuing financial crises which blights the life of so much of the world, speaks with one of the most sane and trustworthy voices in British society today. Previously Chief Executive of the Work Foundation and presently Principal of Hertford College, he has written in today’s Observer about the Dilnot Inquiry’s recommendations for the care of the elderly. This is beginning to become, he says, a politically hot issue as future care costs are likely to be explosive and long lasting, and growing old becomes ‘one of the brute hazards of life’.

Dilnot (see our recent posting) recommends that nobody should have to pay more than £35,000 for their domiciliary care and anything over that should be paid by the state. That could mean an estimated extra £1.7b, rising to more than £3.6bn by 2025/6. Hutton suspects that when the coalition government makes a clear response to these proposals instead of what so far have only been vaguely supportive comments, they will raise the payment threshold from £35,000 to £75,000.

Whatever figure the individual has to pay, the state contribution still has to be found. Dilnot suggests three possible ways of finding that money : by general taxation; by diverting money from other spending programmes, or – his least favoured option – raising a hypothecated tax from the over-sixty-five year olds. Hutton, finding those alternatives unhelpful if not unlikely to be accepted by the government, proposes a fourth method: a system of social insurance. This would be a more radical and astute settlement, creating an insurance system to pay for care in old age, with everyone paying the same insurance premium.

I see two problems here. Would the insurance companies be interested? There may already be a some that offer such an insurance, I don’t know.

But it would have to be a very clever system hat brought benefit to the elderly and at the same time profit to the companies. And would the younger members of society be prepared to support a system for the elderly when such a situation is far from their thinking and priorities. It does requite a major shift of thought to consider age when you are young!

Hutton challenges the Labour party to float the insurance idea. ‘There’s still time to make Britain a more acceptable country in which to grow old’, he concludes.