The sound of the well-off grumbling about their finances is always an unattractive one. But there is one gripe that has become particularly powerful, filling the airwaves and shaping public policy. This is the persistent, ever louder complaint from many households that they are required to sell the family home to pay the costs of care for a close relative. It is a practice widely seen as ‘a scandal’, where the state seizes private property because of its own failure to create a properly funded care system that meets the needs of the elderly.
The flames of grievance are stoked by the press, pressure groups and politicians, who promote the belief that all social care should be free, or at least massively subsidised. The campaign body Age UK moans that ‘167,000 older people now have to fund their own care because they do not meet the brutal means test’. One newspaper recently screeched about ‘the betrayal of the middle class’. Sensing the mood, Boris Johnson declared when he became Prime Minister in July 2019 that ‘my job is to protect you and your parents and grandparents from having to sell your home to pay for the costs of care’.
High Covid death rates in care homes highlighted the need for comprehensive reform in this sector. For campaigners, such change should mean a vast new injection of cash that will end ‘the injustice’ of the expropriation of assets by the government. In March, Johnson pledged a ten-year plan for social care, while last month Matt Hancock confirmed that social care reforms would be implemented before the end of this year, though there was only a brief, vague mention of the government’s plan in the Queen’s Speech this week. The indignation is driven by the requirement that any residents with savings or assets of less than £14,250 are entitled to free care, whereas those marginally above this threshold have to pay a share of the costs, while those with capital of more than £23,250 have to meet their bills in full.