A government has finally done something about social care. Or at least it has a plan. Actually, it doesn't really have that either, but it has a funding mechanism, which is a start. Presumably the plan will decide how to spend the extra money. With the state of the public finances, I can understand them doing it that way round. The government should take some credit for grasping the nettle, having danced around it a long time. But given the not unreasonable expectation that social care will be (or has been) fixed the issue hasn't gone away and could easily come back to bite them.
I was travelling on the day of the announcement and so heard a lot of debate around the subject on the radio and then some more later on the TV news. All of the points you would expect came up, such as:
- this isn't just about old people and dementia: half the social care budget is for younger people with care needs, often extremely acute and long lasting
- will social care ever get to see the money? Initially it will go to clearing the NHS backlog. The Daily Mail's concern earlier in the week was that once the NHS gets more money it will be impossible to reduce it: social care could miss out again if the money can't be prised from the "gigantic maw of the NHS"
- why should hard pressed young people, who don't own property or have an index-linked pension, pay for rich old people to have their assets and savings protected? This strikes me as a well made point
- indeed, why should anyone be able to pass on inheritances down generations? One chap on Radio 5Live spoke cogently and passionately on this, advocating taking all the extra money needed from inheritance tax. Without actually sounding like a communist most of the time
- equally, why shouldn't old people, rich or not, who have worked hard and saved all their life rather than blowing what they had on expensive cars and holidays, pass on houses or money to their children if that's what they want to do rather than spend it? A chap in his late 90s who had served in the RAF in WWII and noted that his generation had had it every bit as hard as today's young folk closed Nicky Campbell's phone-in with an passionate and heartfelt contribution. It strikes me that this desire is at least as strong in people who have accumulated relatively modest levels of wealth as in the "rich", who usually don't have a problem in side stepping inheritance tax anyway. And I've never understood why houses are so emotional - unless, as in some unfortunate examples, relatives stand to lose the roof over their head. For me all assets and wealth count the same, But it is an emotional issue. And not for the very rich - this hang up about property is very "middle England"
- is National Insurance the right way to raise the money? Wouldn't income tax be fairer? Yes of course it would, but politically impossible as the basic rate of tax hasn't been increased in a long time. Over 50 years I've heard said, since James Callaghan was Harold Wilson's chancellor, though I haven't fact checked that
- NHS and care workers will have to pay the tax (d'oh! Don't they and their relatives have care needs too?) While the NHS got a modest pay rise (or not so modest depending on your viewpoint) care workers in the private sector may or may not have had a rise but will still pay the extra tax, if they earn enough. One of my bugbears about NI is that it starts at £9,500pa whereas income tax starts at £12,500