Government pension policies are pushing more people into a poverty trap

As noted a couple of weeks ago, the newspapers are warming up to this year's winter crisis nicely. This week it has been the turn of St Peter's Hospital in Chertsey to be held up as an example of our 'third world' NHS. But the reasons for pressure on beds are complex. The South East of England is facing major bed-blocking problems and the reason for that, in part, is a good, old-fashioned cash crisis - this time in social services.

As always in complex situations, short and long-term solutions are required. Health secretary Alan Milburn hinted last week that one short-term solution will be for the NHS to bail out social services.

In the longer term, the government must grasp the nettle of providing a decent income and decent care for people in old age. It was, of course, supposed to have done that by setting up the Royal Commission on Long-Term Care. But its chair, Sir Stewart Sutherland, proved again last week that the row over whether to fund personal or nursing care is far from over.

Meanwhile, the King's Fund has raised a more fundamental issue. Can people afford both private pensions and the insurance for the housing and living costs the government and Sir Stewart both agree they should pay? If not, more people will be pushed into poverty or means testing.

It is an irony that the present government, so committed to 'saving' the NHS in its Bevanite incarnation, is pursuing policies on pensions and long-term care that will inevitably extend the 'residual' model of the welfare state, on which only the poor rely.

The problem with that, as we have seen over the past 20 years, is that as more affluent people get less and less out of the state system, their support for the welfare state falls and inequalities widen.

The government's instincts on pensions may be cheap for the government. They won't deliver a rosy future for all. The poor, apparently, will always be with us.