Theresa May under pressure over ‘dementia tax’ social care shakeup

On the 21 May 2017, the Guardian ran the following report: Theresa May under pressure over ‘dementia tax’ social care shakeup. Plans to make elderly people pay for care in their own home going down badly on doorstep say Conservative candidates

Theresa May is coming under pressure to drop or water down her controversial shakeup of social care that has been branded a “dementia tax”, amid warnings that it is unfair and could deter older people from seeking care.

The prime minister has faced a backlash about the proposal to make elderly people pay for care in their own home unless they have less than £100,000 in assets, as it would force them to use up the value of their residential property for the first time.

Conservative candidates are reporting that the proposal is going down badly on the doorstep, potentially accounting for a drop in the party’s lead in the polls. Two Tory candidates seeking re-election, including Sarah Wollaston, who chaired the Commons health committee, have gone on the record to criticise the proposal.

Senior Tories, including Boris Johnson and Damian Green, were sent out to defend the policy on Sunday as “grownup and responsible”, but reports have emerged that the shakeup was inserted in the manifesto at the last minute without the approval of some cabinet ministers.

With the policy polling badly, opposition parties lined up to condemn May’s decision. Labour said it was in effect a “dementia tax”, hitting those who are unlucky enough to become ill in their old age.

Another warning came from the King’s Fund, an influential health thinktank, which said the plans risked deterring poorer older people from seeking help in the first place and could overburden already overstretched hospitals.

Richard Humphries, a senior fellow in social care at the thinktank, said: “It will mean thousands of people paying more for home care but will be complex and challenging for councils to implement and risks unintended consequences.

“These might include discouraging people from seeking help, placing a greater burden on unpaid carers and driving increased use of hospitals and long-term care. Access to services will depend on a triple lottery of where you live, what you can afford and what is wrong with you.”

Develop cancer or heart disease but not dementia and your house and savings would be intact, Humphries said.

The King’s Fund’s intervention adds to a warning from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which said on Friday that the policy made “no attempt to deal with the fundamental challenge of social care funding”.

A separate analysis by Luke Clement, professor of law at Leeds University, argued the proposals could act as an incentive for older people to transfer their properties into their children’s names or offshore and would land local authorities with debt portfolios of many 

millions, leading to a temptation to sell it off.

Senior cabinet ministers on Sunday insisted it was the right thing to do, but also stressed that there would be consultations about the proposals over the summer, paving the way for a possible softening.

Johnson said it was a “responsible” and “brave” move by May but he understood people’s concerns about it.

“Whatever happens, people are going to be able to live in their own home. They will have that anxiety taken away and they will be able to pass on a minimum of £100,000 to their kids,” the foreign secretary told ITV’s Peston on Sunday show.

“I do understand people’s reservations and the questions people are asking about some of the detail of this, but the broad thrust is right, and as the PM has said there will be a consultation on getting it right.”

Green said there would be no U-turn on the policy but also emphasised the consultation. “We have set out this policy, which we’re not going to look at again,” the work and pensions secretary told the BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show.

During the programme, Green was confronted with calculations suggesting a widow living in an average-priced house in the MP’s constituency of Ashford in Kent could have to pay an extra £70,000 towards the cost of care for dementia in her own home.

“I suspect that figure requires heroic assumptions,” Green said. “She should vote Conservative and her children should vote Conservative because whatever level of care she needs that removes that terrible decision of how long should you try and keep someone at home or maybe put them into residential care.”

He stumbled over the issue of Conservatives withdrawing the winter fuel allowance for some pensioners, admitting he could not say which older people would lose out as a result of new means testing.

“If they are in genuine need of the winter fuel payment, they will still get it … That’s what we’re going to consult on after the election. That’s the sensible way to do it. That is the way a grownup government will operate,” Green said. 

What do we think?  

The current social care system is a real mess and has been for many years; several recent attempts have been made to tidy it up but without success and as a result has led to even more complex system with many uncertainties. 

The Alzheimer’s Society state that by 2021, 1 million people in the UK will be living with Dementia with over 40,000 people under the age of 65 living with the condition. Under the current social care system people with dementia are forced to spend hundreds of thousands on care – unlike those who develop cancer, heart disease or diabetes. This is because the care that you receive when you have dementia is predominantly social care and this is means-tested, meaning you pay. Whereas if you have another condition such as cancer, you will receive NHS care free at the point of use.

Social care is always going to be an emotive subject but it is about time the entire system is given a complete overhaul creating a new fairer system for all. A simplification of the system would of course be welcomed, but must be coupled with fairness and sufficient resources across local authorities to deal with all people’s needs whether social or medical.  

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