James Mumford

A blank cheque to the baby boomers

After more than a decade of wrangling, it seems that a deal is finally about to be struck on long-term care of the elderly, by adopting the package proposed by economist Andrew Dilnot.  George Osborne has apparently agreed to a proposal, to be announced as early as next month, to make sure no one pays more than £75,000 towards their care costs however wealthy they are. The threshold below which their equity is exempt will also be jacked up.

The estimated cost of all this is £700 million – money that this government simply does not have. To offer this at a time of cuts to further education, aircraft carriers, local authorities and welfare would be extraordinary. Yet Osborne is contemplating moving into a new sphere altogether: paying for the social care of the asset-rich middle classes.

Gordon Brown was criticised for offering to the elderly electorate universal subsidies such as winter fuel payment and free bus transport; and for extending means-testing to ensure that hundreds of thousands of older people received pension credit. All of these policies, so it was argued, helped to wed as many pensioners as possible to a welfare state only a Labour government would protect.

But now – quietly, surreptitiously – we see the Coalition government poised to do exactly the same, universalising a system which has historically been means-tested. Reeling from this year’s ‘granny tax’ debacle and keenly aware of the effect of rising energy prices upon the elderly, political officials across Westminster all know they must do something to win over the grey vote. They desperately need a legacy going into 2015.

And not just the grey vote. As the old saying goes, where there’s a will there are relatives. Dilnot is also about protecting savings and inheritances from the ravages of social care costs.

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Written by
James Mumford
James Mumford is a London-based writer and fellow at the University of Virginia's Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture. His most recent book, Vexed: Ethics Beyond Political Tribes, is out with Bloomsbury Continuum.

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