How to reform the funding of social care in this country has bedevilled governments of both main parties for the past two decades.
So I was pleased to support the Prime Minister this week when he unveiled his plans to put social care funding on a long term footing and won a House of Commons vote on the proposals. It will bring relief to many people across the country who fear losing everything they have ever worked for because they may become too ill or frail to be able to live independently in the community.
I have personal experience of this situation within my own family and know how desperately unfair it can be, not only for the person needing care and the significant financial costs involved, but also for their loved ones who that person would freely wish to leave their estate to having paid tax on what they earned in their lives repeatedly.
At present anyone who has capital, whether in the form of property, savings or shares, of over £23,250 is liable to pay the full costs of their care whether or not they receive it in their home or a care home setting with no cap on overall costs.
For someone with a long-term debilitating condition, such as multiple sclerosis, this can mean spending years and years in a care home with bills running into hundreds of thousands of pounds. Once their life savings have been used up they will be forced to sell their home by the local authority to continue paying the bills. It normally falls to family members, usually their own children, to carry out these actions.
It is a ghastly predicament for any family to be in; not only having to cope with the distress of watching their close relative’s health ebb away, but also receiving demands from the local council for increasing sums of money. It is absolutely right for the government to intervene to minimise the number of families who have to go through this ordeal!
Under the new settlement those who own less than £20,000 will not have to pay care costs from their assets, but may have to from their income, and anyone with assets below £100,000 will be means-tested to determine whether they qualify for financial help from the state.
The changes will involve a rise in national insurance contributions and dividends tax by 1.25% from April 2022. From April 2023 the rises will stay in place but will be rebranded as the Health and Social Care levy, which will appear separately on people’s tax records. Crucially, an overall cap of £86,000 will be introduced on the total amount a person will have to pay for care costs in their lifetime.
To start with the annual £12bn raised will fund the backlog in routine NHS work caused by the pandemic for a period of three years, the extra money going to fund 9m more appointments, operations and treatments. After three years these funds will start to be redirected to support the new social care funding system.
To his credit the Prime Minister was utterly straight with the British people. The 2019 Conservative manifesto committed not to raise national insurance, but nobody could have foreseen the dreadful consequences of the pandemic which has forced health and social care issues to the top of the political agenda. I believe the public are more than capable of understanding the difficult situation we find ourselves in and will give the government credit for not avoiding tough decisions.
Other political parties have opposed these changes whilst offering no alternative solutions of their own to the problem. The changes are not perfect I agree, but at least they are a start to face up to one of the most pressing issues we face as a country.