Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Social care: the dementia tax

The conclusion of my previous post, written a  week ago, that

. . . . Mrs May, far from being strong, consistent and a safe pair of hands,  is  a vacillating opportunist, quick to change her statements  to the advantage of her  party and herself. . . ., and skilful in the "dissembling and cloaking" against which she was warned in her Prayer Book upbringing

is amply borne out by her volte- face  on payment for social care.  

 (For those unaware of the details,  the Conservative Manifesto  promised that people would have to pay in full, without limit, for any necessary social care, mainly in old age, until their assets were reduced to £100 000.  This meant that property owners would, if necessary, have to to sell their houses, thus preventing their children or legatees inheriting what could be considerable sums.  This produced outrage, mainly from the wealthy, and Mrs May decided that there would after all be a cap on the total to be paid for social care - and blustered  this was not a change in policy,  just a detail.  A master-class in dissembling and cloaking.)

When the policy was published it was quickly dubbed the "Dementia Tax."  Serve the Tories jolly-well right - when Labour introduced a similar (but better - more on that later) proposal just before the 2010 election,, the Tories were quick to label it the "Death Tax." Just another example of how childish our politics have become.

Happy this U-turn  has  put paid to the concept of Mrs May as a "strong and stable" pair of hand. "Weak and wobbly" has taken over and bears constant repetition.

Actually "Dementia Tax" is not a particularly accurate description  as there are many reasons other than dementia for needing care in old age.  For the moment my own potential problems appear to  relate more to the bladder than the brain. And it's not just old age.   As this article  in today's Guardian points out, almost half of council's social care spending goes on  adults below the age of 65.

I can't say that I'm particularly comfortable with the idea of the state shelling out squillions so that the already privileged offspring  of owners of mini-mansions can inherit yet further advantages. It seems to me that there are two problems to be solved.  

The first is paying for the care.  If it is to be "free at the point of use"  from the beginning  or after a limited contribution from those able to pay, then this will require an increase in National Insurance Contributions  (NICs) or general taxation.  If health and social care services are to be merged, which seems a popular and sensible proposal, then increased NICs seem the logical choice.  If the politicians are too frightened to attempt this, then Andy Burnham's proposal  (the above-mentioned "Death Tax") of a levy on of some 15% on all estates, first put forward in a White Paper of 2010 seems to me to be perfectly acceptable.  The important thing is to fund the service properly and ensure decent wages and conditions for those providing it. If the service were returned to public or "not for profit" hands then priority could  be given to the quality of care rather than than profit-maximisation

The second problem is that of inheritance. The present threshold for liability to inheritance tax (formerly Death Duties) is £325 000, but rich people with assets well above this can afford clever accountants to find ways of avoiding paying. Given that inherited wealth is a major source of inequality I should like to see a revival of the good old Liberal proposal that the  tax should not be on the estate but the recipients, and should be tax free provided the estate is bequeathed to different people in  small dollops - say of £50 000 at today's values.

Just to show how even handed this blog is, I'll but on record that I welcome the Tory proposal to discontinue the Winter Fuel Allowance for comfortably-off pensioners (which I'd define as anyone still paying income tax, which incudes me) and would take much the same view of the free TV licence for the over75s (which also incudes me)


  1. The outrage about people losing their houses is astonishing, considering that under the current system anyone who goes into residential care is liable to have to sell their house, and may be left with as little as £23,000. The new proposals would be greatly to the advantage of those people, and they are generally the people whose care is most expensive.

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