Quickly nicknamed "the dementia tax," May's social care plan was unpopular. But the wobbly way she executed her swerve on the policy will do her no favoursby Tom Clark / May 22, 2017 / Leave a comment
If politics is the art of the possible, the art of being a good politician is very often making the best of the miserable possibilities at hand. Over the last few days, Theresa May has found herself confronting an unavoidably miserable choice. Far from making the best of it, however, she has mishandled it—in a manner that worsens her immediate predicament, and will do her standing lasting damage in the public eye.
The dilemma was of her own making, in that it concerned a new policy about social care which she had made the headline of her manifesto only last week, and which had since bombed on the doorstep. The proposal, quickly nicknamed “the dementia tax,” would have the elderly pay for their own care if their combined savings and property assets were worth over £100,000.
As it happens, I don’t think the policy was too bad. It had some shortcomings, particularly in its failure to protect those families who end up with the very highest bills. But the core idea was sensible: to harness the wealth locked up in houses to release resources into a service that is so short of them that desperately frail people are denied the help they need to wash and dress.
For all the hysteria about a “dementia tax,” peoples’ houses are already used to foot the bills when they move into a care home. The twist with the May plan was simply that property wealth would now also be used to provide the domiciliary care that might actually allow elderly people to live in their own house for longer. The state’s claim on the property was only to be made later—taken from their estate after death.
The heat of an election campaign, however, is not a wise time to try out an entirely new idea that you’ve not taken the time to road-test. Long years of austerity have exacerbated the Conservative problem of being seen, as May herself once insightfully put it, the “nasty party,” a reputation that invites special suspicion. Springing on voters the idea that they might suddenly be asked to pay for some big, future bill, in a new way, was a gamble—not least because this is, for most voters, a hypothetical bill…