The need for Foresight in policy making

Published by Patricia Lustig on

We know that 2040 is going to be very different from today, but Gill recently encountered a public consultation that did not seem to be aware of this.  The topic was adult social care in the UK.  This was part of a sequence, building on a series of previous consultations, so we were asked to discuss the options that had emerged to date.

The options that had emerged to date had a common characteristic. Their viability rested on a number of assumptions. And a number of these assumptions will not be valid in the UK by say 2040 – only twenty years away.

One assumption was that a similar proportion of 65 to 85 year olds as today will need services provided by third parties such as carers, community workers etc. Existing and projected trends in ageing – sixty is the new fifty – make this less likely, particularly as people choose to work beyond state pension age, in both paid and voluntary roles. And IT is increasingly becoming part of peoples’ lives – in the form of online systems to connect with friends and family, or medical advisors, banks, travel agents or deliveries of groceries and other necessities.

In the US and Japan, robots are more widely used to provide company and routine care for partially abled people. This was not discussed, though the group she was part of thought that design of living spaces and physical infrastructure could ameliorate some of the loneliness flagged by earlier consultations.

The options that had emerged to date had a common assumption that the state should be supplier of social care as a last resort. This raises all sorts of questions about – does this not mean that people are discouraged from saving? Social care needs are so individual – it is not like health care where publicly funded trained professional services can employ common standards.

In all, one conclusion I came to was that public consultation on ethical issues – such as abortion in Ireland – makes sense; and consultation on whether social care is a public good could also be a topic. These topics are appropriate because they relate to underlying attitudes.

The second conclusion she came to was that consultation on ethical issues can benefit from views of the future – an understanding of demographics, urbanisation, family structures etc – as decisions will have impact for many years.


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