No, ministers, our homes are our castles, not yours
Is my memory failing, or did we already dispense with the whole crazy idea of a dementia tax?
Did we not pillory the idea of selling our homes to fund our social care as unfair, unworkable and not just unconservative but un-british to boot?
You know, unless I’ve gone as doolally as social care minister Jackie Doyle-price, I think that’s precisely what happened.
Yet now Doyle-price is insisting that pensioners should not regard their houses as “an asset to give to their offspring”. Come again?
I get that we are squaring up against Europe as the battle for a hard, soft or even sunny-side-up Brexit turns into a gladiatorial slog. So why are we being attacked by our own side, on the home front?
Because, before you ask, no, Doyle-price is not the shadow minister, spouting a load of old Corbynist claptrap to the property-is-theft brigade, but the actual Government’s actual social care minister. Although possibly not for long.
“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,” she said last week, addressing a fringe meeting at the Conservative Party conference.
Now, I vividly recall Theresa May publicly ditching her manifesto promise – sorry, threat – on social care funding way back in May, after just four days.
The U-turn was, of course, prompted not by an attack of conscience but fear that it might cost her a landslide general election.
Inter alia, it did. Voters quite rightly cavilled even at the hastily retracted suggestion they should be compelled to sell their homes to fund their social care at home, when those without a property would be cared for by the state.
It was self-evidently a tax on hard work. It penalised the strivers who had been sold the Tory dream of home ownership, had bought a property and wanted to pass it on to their children or their grandchildren.
Isn’t that what we all want? Buying rather than renting is rooted in our psyche. To strive in order to buy one’s home is a very fine thing. We are a nation that places great value on bricks and mortar.
Our home is very often – and, in my case, very much – the fruit of our labours; our single great investment.
The downside is that the cost of houses in the big conurbations is pricing our children out of the market. But all the more reason to want to hand it on to the next generation.
I grew up in a council house, which my widowed mother went on to own under Mrs Thatcher’s right-to-buy scheme.
It was one of her life’s achievements. After it was sold, there wasn’t much to pass on to five daughters, but it was enough to give me a toehold on the property ladder. I’m not sure I want to be treated as some sort of capitalist running dog because I want the same for my children. If I am unlucky enough to develop dementia, I don’t see why they should lose their inheritance as well as their mother when the place they call home is sold, posthumously, to cover the cost of care.
The unpalatable truth is that social care is in a complete and utter shameful shambles. It needs proper management and transparent funding, not thuggish land-grabs every time some random elderly person falls ill.
The rejected proposals would have seen more pensioners contributing to the cost of their care until their savings and assets were down to £100,000. The policy was dubbed the “dementia tax”, as it would mean dementia sufferers would pay to be cared for at home, but not, say, cancer patients, who would need to be in hospital.
There is a black hole at the centre of social care funding, but it needs to be filled with pooled funds from taxation, not via a random lottery of ill-fortune.
We have grown wearily accustomed to bossy governments legislating for good or ill in all sorts of areas: education, policing, transport. Mostly, we let them get on with it.
They may interfere with how we lead or lives, but woe betide any minister who dares to meddle with where we lead our lives.
Our homes are not just the places where we eat, sleep, have or don’t have sex, watch Strictly and rear children. They are family fortresses.
That’s why we don’t take kindly to governments of any colour ordering us to insulate our houses. It might make sense, it might save money and, if climate change minister Claire Perry has her way, get us a few bob off stamp duty – but it’s just a bit too bossy and micromanagerial for our mindset.
Overbearing interference from Brussels is, after all, one of the key reasons why we voted to leave the European Union. It wasn’t so that our Government could seize the assets of the frail and vulnerable.
Honestly, I have no idea why the toxic dementia tax is back on the agenda again (and brought up by the Conservatives, too). We don’t want it. Simple as that. It’s not that we aren’t prepared to pay – just not that way.
What we do want is a grown-up discussion and some ideology-free facts about a penny or two on income tax to ease the social care crisis, and yet it is a debate our pusillanimous politicians are shying away from.
I recall the Liberal Democrats (remember them?) last May pledging a 1p income tax hike to fund the NHS and social care. They calculated it would raise £6billion a year.
Is that correct? Is it enough? Just tell us. It might need to be twice that, but fine. Let’s talk.
At least then we can hope to reach some sort of consensus and make a proper decision before the bailiffs break in and change the locks while we’re belting out All Things Bright and Beautiful at Grandma’s funeral.
The powers-that-be need to remember that an Englishman’s home is his castle. And so is a Scotsman’s, a Welshman’s and a Northern Irishman’s. We make no apology for defending our right to own the homes in which we live.
Dementia is ghastly enough without having your assets seized because you had the misfortune to fall ill.