Professor Richard Kerley: Covering Care Costs – why and how?

Professor Richard Kerley, co-chair of the CSPP, shares his opinion on the Conservative Party's proposals on social care and the Winter Fuel Allowance.


Perhaps the most appropriate description that we can use to describe the 'care costs’ frenzy of recent days is that good old stand-by word 'Fankle'.

In addition, the confused proposals for changes of eligibility for the Winter Fuel Allowance also add to the tangle.

‘U-Turn’ has been good enough for most papers of course (and it is the first manifesto U-Turn that Sir David Butler, the John Curtice of his time, can recall in following 60 years of elections). Clearly the rapid policy change reveals a huge weakness in the manner the Tories have complacently assumed they can propose some frankly ill considered ideas because they'll get away with it anyway. 

It also has – at least for me – shown how the often criticised MSM on a good day can beat the frothier social media sites hands down. And if you did not catch Andrew Neil skewering Theresa May in an interview, catch up now.   

I think it goes much wider than the U-Turn line; and here are a few short reasons why – and why it is important for us here in Scotland even though we rightly boast of our apparently Free Social and Personal Care.

1. The social care charges proposed crashes into centre stage of debate the whole question of capital accumulation through ‘housing luck’ and also blows open the discussion of 'inheritance’. After all, if a Conservative Minister can state (although this was 2 or 3 days ago) that '£100,000 is a reasonable inheritance' then we can continue to challenge their refusal to tackle inherited wealth transmission. And we know that this is a real buttress of inter-generational inequalities. In effect the Tories have now set the threshold for tax-free inheritance gifts at  £100k cash.

2. The health/care boundary explicit in government plans illustrates perfectly the distinction between embedded acceptance of different forms of 'illness'. To keel over from a sudden heart attack (as my mother went) shows our society and our health care institutions assume distinct and qualitatively different conditions from the lingering decline and death of dementia.  

3. The neat sidestep by the Tories via the Scottish Secretary and their Scottish leader to state that whatever plans there were for the Winter Fuel Payments in England would not apply to Scotland because that was a matter of devolved competence was pretty cute. Since any decision on applicability of fuel payments here would be a matter for the SNP government it was also a bit on the cheeky side. The Winter Fuel Payment also continues to provide a classic illustration of how poor policy can become to be seen as good politics by those in charge of government at any one time. Introduced by Gordon Brown as a sop for his damaging decision to only increase state pensions by some miniscule amount, it has actually done little to tackle ‘fuel poverty’.

4. We should also remember that in Scotland we have our own floor and cap on care costs here despite the presence of 'Free Personal Care' provision for many. Charges for care home costs for individuals are levied if we have 'capital' of between £16k and £23k (approximate figures but pretty modest levels by the expectations of most). As Care Information Scotland describes it: 'The payment of care home fees is a complex subject and depends on many things which are unique to you.'

5. And that last sentence is a great understatement that captures a lot about our current 'system' of social care. And it is not looking as though much will change for the better in the near future. 

Declaration of Interest. I receive a Winter Fuel Payment, which I have always argued should be taxed at my marginal rate. I am not currently expecting to need social care, but then that's the critical issue in this whole tangled mess. The point is that not many of us do… until we do...

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