Friday 29 November 2019 4:29 am

None of the parties have a credible plan to fix the social care crisis

Claudia Martinez is health policy lead at the think tank Reform.

Every day, 1.4m elderly people are left unwashed, unsupported, and without the care they need — because our social care system is broken.

“Crisis” is an overused term, but in this instance, it’s no exaggeration.

And people are increasingly aware of this. Recent polling commissioned by Deloitte and Reform revealed that social care is the second fastest growing public concern — second only to the housing crisis. 

Yet despite the overwhelming need to act, no party manifesto  has put forward a credible fix for social care.

No doubt Theresa May’s disastrous “dementia tax” 2017 election campaign weighs heavily on the minds of party strategists. Riding high in the polls, May dared to suggest that those with property wealth should contribute to funding their own care. 

Our Christmas election can in part be traced back to the dire consequences of that fateful idea. Now, we are left with woefully inadequate proposals.

The Liberal Democrats have pledged an additional penny on income tax, followed by a hypothecated “health & care tax”. There are two major flaws in this approach.

First, relying on general taxation to fund social care exacerbates intergenerational inequality. Younger people who are working are saddled with a heavier tax bill, most of which will be spent on pensioners.

Second, a ring-fenced tax relies on the economic cycle. If the economy does well, more money flows into the system. But if there is a downturn, services receive less money and the government is left to make up the difference. This would not only render the Lib Dems’ policy useless, but would introduce further uncertainty to a system desperate for stability. 

In contrast, the Conservative manifesto, with its “don’t repeat 2017” mantra, has swerved the issue, pledging instead an emergency cash injection over the next parliament that will barely provide a sticking plaster.

Fearing a grey backlash, the Tories’ stance appears to be “keep your expensive house, we’ll find a miracle cross-party solution to this funding crisis”. The Lib Dems have made a similar offer. But any fool can see that a plan relying on building consensus in Westminster is no plan at all — the palace has never been so divided. 

After more than a dozen green papers, white papers, and countless independent enquiries, waiting for consensus risks kicking the can even further down the road.

Labour has at least pledged a partial solution: introducing a Scotland-style free personal care model for over-65s, at a cost of £6bn. But the plan omits residential care — the biggest driver of cost — and doesn’t consider rapidly increasing demand of an ageing population. The party has also pledged to cap catastrophic costs at £100,000, but offers little explanation as to how this will be funded.

None of these “plans” offer a credible, long-term funding answer. All will leave councils and the NHS desperately trying to pick up the pieces, while reducing services for everyone else.

The good news is that there is a solution, if politicians can find the courage to deliver it. At Reform, we’ve proposed a social insurance model, similar to Germany, where working-age adults pay into a state-backed, compulsory Later Life Care Fund. 

These pooled savings would be managed privately to ensure the greatest returns, and then used to fund contributors’ care costs. 

This pre-funded solution would be better value and intergenerationally fairer than general taxation. 

To avoid “double taxation” while reserves accumulate, over-generous universal pensioner benefits, such as the winter fuel allowance and the triple-lock, should be scrapped.

And I’m sorry, Prime Minster, but those who have been fortunate enough to benefit from the property price boom will also have to release some of the value held in their home to pay for their care.

It’s a realistic solution to a perennial problem. Politicians are elected to make tough decisions in the national interest — it is time they stepped up.

Main image credit: Getty

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