Without the distraction of leaving, ministers could get on with fixing social care, universal credit and further educationby Paul Wallace / January 18, 2019 / Leave a comment
Imagine for a moment that Brexit does not happen after all. Quite apart from the economic and strategic virtues of remaining in the EU, the government could focus on the real problems facing the country. Ministers have been ducking crucial decisions in their all-consuming preoccupation with Brexit. The blight is especially notable in social policy where there are three overriding priorities for action.
First, sort out a new system of financing adult social care in England, which has become desperately underfunded as well as unfair. This long delayed reform is vital not just for the many elderly individuals who rely upon such support but for the NHS. Lack of social care causes bed-blocking as hospitals cannot discharge vulnerable patients. Like a referred pain, cuts in the budgets of local authorities responsible for social care hurt the health service as well.
A solution must include the cap on lifetime care costs first recommended by the Dilnot Commission in 2011 (and controversially missing from Theresa May’s election manifesto of May 2017, leading her proposal to be dubbed a “dementia tax”). This would address the inequity in the current means-tested system, which can leave some people who require lengthy care in residential homes facing frightening bills. At present there is no viable way to insure against this risk in the private market because of the many uncertainties about potential costs. And by the time most people recognise the need for protection they have become risks for any insurer to shun rather than to accept.
The cap will provide a form of catastrophe insurance for those requiring prolonged expensive care. Such an approach will retain some private contribution for those who can afford it, limiting the cost to the taxpayer. Even so, the state’s contribution will rise over and above increases already needed to rectify the long squeeze on funding. That extra cost should be met if possible by higher taxes on the better-off retired rather than the working population.
As ministers take one step forward with a long overdue plan for social care they should take one step back and scrap universal credit. The usual trope is to describe this brainchild of Iain Duncan Smith (surely a warning) as a good idea in principle but poorly implemented…