No, min­is­ters, our homes are our cas­tles, not yours

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - Ju­dith Woods

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.

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