The Conservative MP for East Devon, Sir Hugo Swire, has proposed that the government should use Devon as a guinea pig for elderly social care reforms.
Writing in last week's The House magazine, Swire pointed out that the funding of adult social care is "unquestionably one of the most pressing challenges of the next few decades." He added: "In this country, there are now one million more people aged over 65 since 2010. There will be two million more people over 75 years old in the next decade alone. There will be a third more people aged over 85 in 2024 than there were in 2014."
The MP lamented that neither "our children and our grandchildren, some of whom are already saddled with student debt and unable to buy a home of their own" nor "already stretched local authorities" could be expected to carry the costs for elderly social care.
"Additionally," he said, "if we don’t tackle the decade-long stagnation in real wages, many more care workers will leave the profession, a situation which has been exacerbated further by Brexit."
The first of Swire's proposals for addressing these concerns is that the government should look upon Devon as a ‘guinea pig’ to see how best to deal with the challenge long-term.
"At present, 17% of the UK population is over 65, compared to 24% of the Devon population," he said. "In other words, with those ageing demographics, the rest of England will look like Budleigh Salterton (one of my constituency towns) by 2050. Get it right in Devon and you then have the template to roll out nationally."
Swire's second proposal is to bring back together a cross-party group of MPs who share his concerns - including Norman Lamb, Caroline Flint and Sarah Wollaston - to help the government work through the social care funding crisis.
"Looking after the elderly is our duty and should not be a political football," concluded Swire. "We should take Andrew Dilnot’s “Fairer Care Funding” report off the shelf, dust it down and get to work."
In my own county of Devon, the challenge of social care is particularly daunting. The number of over-65s in Devon will increase from 195,000 to 264,400 by 2030, an increase of 35.5%, putting a massive strain on local services and the local economy.