Storm as minister says: Don’t see home as an asset to leave your kids
No 10 forced to reassure middle class pensioners
DOWNING Street yesterday slapped down a minister who said pensioners should not think of their homes as an asset to pass on to their children.
Care Minister Jackie Doyle-Price was recorded on film saying taxpayers should not be ‘propping up’ the elderly so they can keep their homes despite building up ‘massive’ care costs.
She told a fringe event at the Tory conference that when it comes to their homes, people see themselves as ‘the custodian of an asset to give to their offspring’, adding: ‘They shouldn’t be seen as that.’
The Prime Minister’s spokesman rejected the comments, saying families who have worked hard should be able to pass their homes on.
Labour seized on Miss Doyle-Price’s intervention, saying it proved the Conservatives were reviving the so- called ‘dementia tax’, which damaged Mrs May’s chances during the general election. It came just days after it was revealed that the Government is dropping its pledge to bring in a cap of around £75,000 on social care costs by 2020.
The delay means thousands will continue to be denied much of their inheritance if their parents have care needs.
Miss Doyle-Price’s intervention comes after another minister, Dr Phillip Lee, suggested Britons have become too ‘selfish’ and were ‘outsourcing’ the care of their loved ones.
Under England’s broken care system, those who go into a residential home have to use their own assets to pay the full costs of their care until they are reduced to their last £23,500.
The Tory election manifesto said these rules should be extended to those homes. receivingThe plan care wasin their quicklyown dubbed the ‘dementia tax’.
In the new footage, which was released by Labour, Miss Doyle-Price said: ‘The reality is that the taxpayer shouldn’t necessarily be propping up people to keep their property and hand it on to their children when they’re generating massive care needs. ‘We’ve got to a stage where people feel that they are the custodian of an asset to give to their offspring but actually we need to get back to a stage where actually homes are for living in.’ She added: ‘People are now well into their pension ages sitting in homes that really are too big for their needs and we really do need to start having those conversations about what’s appropriate earlier.’ Asked whether Mrs May agrees with Miss Doyle-Price, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘We have said that where there are care bills, it is right that where people can contribute, they do so.
‘But the Prime Minister has also said that where people have worked hard all their lives to build up these assets, they should be able to pass that on to their children. This is a complex issue with an ageing population. The Government has said that it will be bringing forward proposals in due course. In the meantime we’ve put an extra £2billion into social care to deal with some of these issues.’
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: ‘The idea of a “dementia tax” was rightly rejected by the public during the general election. It is appalling that the Tories still want to force older people to pay for care with their homes. Labour will provide hope for older people and treat them with the respect they deserve by investing an extra £8billion in social care and establishing a national care service to reverse years of Tory decline.’
Economist Sir Andrew Dilnot, the architect of the Tories’ pledge to cap sky-high care bills, yesterday repeated his call for such a system to be introduced.
‘Propped up by the taxpayer’
HOW right the American poet was when he wrote that of all the sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest were these: ‘It might have been!’ If only, if only, my venerable late parents had kept the house in which I was born, I wouldn’t be sitting in this office today, a wage-slave struggling to piece together another column.
Don’t tell Mrs U, but I’d be luxuriating on a swanky yacht, perhaps somewhere in the Adriatic, enjoying a pint and a fag.
As it was, some time in the late Fifties my parents sold that modest, but pretty semi, on the border of Jeremy Corbyn’s Islington constituency, in whose front bedroom I gave vent to my first wail.
If I remember rightly — an increasingly big if these days — my father got £4,000 for it (roughly £88,000 in today’s money). He thought he’d made a killing, having bought it for half that sum a few years earlier. When I looked it up on the Zoopla property-price website yesterday, I saw that the identical other half of the semi went on the market earlier this year at a guide price of £4,500,000. Hell’s teeth!
Apart from a brief period of homeownership in the Sixties, when the family moved to Kintbury in Berkshire, my parents then rented for the rest of their lives.
The upshot was that on my father’s death in 1988, the sum total of my inheritance from this great Tory thinker — one of Lady Thatcher’s favourite gurus, who believed strongly that wealth should be handed down from one generation to the next — was a single, soup-stained tie. The family felt that I should have it, since it bore the crest of the Cambridge college he and I both attended.
Oh, well, it’s no use crying over spilt soup, and I certainly don’t expect anyone to weep for me. In fact, my inheritance from my parents — a happy childhood, a good education and a keen sense of the difference between right and wrong (though I don’t always choose the former) — was a treasure far more valuable than the millions I might have shared with my siblings if things had been different. I know that I’ve been blessed. But that’s enough piety.
It is perhaps because of what might have been — and wasn’t — that I have mixed feelings about the social care minister’s assertion, revealed this week, that pensioners should not regard their homes as ‘an asset to give to their offspring’.
Says Jackie Doyle- Price ( no, me neither), it is unfair to expect younger taxpayers to ‘prop up people to keep their property’ when it could be sold to help pay for their care needs.
Thus, this obscure minister has reignited the pre- election row over Theresa May’s plan for funding residential care — devastatingly dubbed a ‘dementia tax’ by Labour — which more than any other single factor cost the Tories their overall majority.
A part of me sides passionately with my father’s belief that private property is the bedrock of freedom, and wealth should be allowed to cascade through the generations. After all, there is no more powerful human instinct — Harvey Weinstein’s urges aside — than the desire to look after our young. That goes equally for the inheritors of multi-million-pound houses and those who get nothing more than soup-stained ties.
Indeed, it has often struck me that Marx’s Communist Manifesto — bible of the creepy Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell — goes wrong from its very first sentence when it glibly asserts: ‘The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.’
No, it isn’t. The history of most hitherto existing society is surely the history of family life.
By this I mean that from time immemorial, untold millions in every income group or line of work have cared far more about putting food on their family table, and wanting the best for their young, than about the great events and clashes of interest that preoccupy historians.
As for myself, I admit that I’ve written some pretty harsh things over the years about my long-suffering sons. But they are the first people I’d try to rescue from any fire. And even I, callous father though I am, want them to have anything that’s left when my wife and I are dead.
Ideally, this would include the suburban semi we bought in 1987. To avoid raising false hopes, however, I should point out that: (a) it’s worth less than a fifth the value of the house in which I was born; and (b) since I also inherited my father’s incompetence with money, along with the tie, the house will have to serve as a pension for myself and my wife.
So even if the social care minister is thwarted in her desire to seize it, it’s unlikely we’ll be able to avoid selling up.
But apart from my natural Tory instincts, there’s one other consideration that turns me against the bossy Ms Doyle- Price. Under her plan, wastrels who’ve squandered everything on loose living would be deemed entitled to free residential care.
Meanwhile, those in the next room, who have scrimped and saved to buy homes, would be penalised by being forced to sell. This is not only manifestly unfair, but a strong disincentive to prudence and social responsibility.
No, there’s an obvious and fair solution to the care crisis. Instead of rebuking us older folk for living in houses she judges too big for us, Ms D-P should introduce a properly funded, ring-fenced national insurance scheme to look after those no longer able to fend for themselves.
Indeed, this was the original intention of NI contributions, before light-fingered ministers began plundering the fund to supplement general taxation.
But I said I had mixed feelings, and this is why. The fact is that, thanks to politicians’ dishonesty, no such fund exists. Which leaves us with a deeply uncomfortable choice: either those who have assets enough to afford it should be made to pay for their care — whether before or after death — or else taxes must be increased (or spending cut elsewhere) to cover the increasing costs of our ageing population.
This is where, with a heavy heart, I feel the off-putting Ms D-P may have a point. Yes, in an ideal world, the State would pick up the tab for every lifelong contributor to NI who is unfortunate enough to need social care. But in this horribly imperfect world, Tories who share my belief in self-reliance must surely ask themselves a tricky question.
Isn’t it much more by good luck than by home- owners’ good management that houses, particularly in the South-East, have rocketed in value over the past few decades (though few by as much as my Islington birthplace)?
So why should struggling taxpayers in general be landed with the bills for our bad luck in needing residential care, while we as individual home-owners are left to reap all the benefits of our good luck in owning assets worth more than we paid for them?
But let me end with my three-point, family-friendly plan for solving the social care crisis and keeping the highly dangerous member for Islington North out of office (if you think he’ll respect your property rights, think again!).
Point one: restore National Insurance to its original purpose, with contributions properly calculated to cover the fund’s liabilities. Point two: build more houses — a great many more — to spread the joys and responsibilities of homeownership to the disaffected young.
And point three? It’s an idea as old as the human species itself: if our sons and daughters wish to inherit our homes, how about encouraging them to look after us in our dotage, instead of throwing us on the mercy of a merciless state?
Fringe event: Jackie Doyle-Price