Social Care, Intergenerational Equity, and Shouting at the Radio

So, as it turns out, my first re-engagement with writing is merely shouting at the radio. Specifically, the panel on Any Questions, and the facile level of political argument on show over the social care proposals in the conservative manifesto.

The proposal would make pensioners with assets worth over £100 thousand pay towards their social care cost.

The Tory argues intergenerational fairness: putting the burden of care on old rich people rather than young poor people.

John McDonald counters with the unfairness of making the unlucky suffer twice: it is surely fairer to spread the risk over lots of people (‘socialise’ the cost of care).

And that’s pretty much the discussion, and I’m staring in mute rage at the radio.

It’s the duplicitous framing that I hate. The faux-boldness of taking on the grey-haired voters. This policy doesn’t place the burden on old wealthy people. It places the burden on old people who live in houses (most) who are suffering and need support. These groups will intersect, certainly, but they are not the same. The group that will pay is smaller (so they will pay more) and not necessarily wealthy (so they can afford it less). And many of them are suffering from dementia.

Who should pay? One side presents it as a choice between the hard-pressed young taxpayer or the old asset-rich pensioner. The other between ‘all of us’ and the widow on her state pension who will have to sell her house. Neither are true, both are true, but certainly both are disengenuously framed, politically facile, and more frustratingly, if both desires were genuinely held there is an obvious way forward.

If you want to actually want to tackle intergenerational inequality, fund social care out of the amassed wealth that the over 50s have though generous final salary pensions, housing price booms, large savings and long term secure jobs, and reduce the inequality-generating cycle of inherited wealth, you can do it in a way that also socialises costs. For instance, inheritance tax. Or other forms of wealth tax. Raise a tax on those amassed assets and fund social care with it.

But that would mean introducing not a charge on the old and ill (what a strong and compassionate policy that is) but a tax on the old and rich. And even Theresa doesn’t have the strength to genuinely take them on.

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