Theresa May – Champion of the Predatory State

As Britain’s election campaign trundles on, Theresa May’s planned ‘dementia tax’, an attack on savers, aspiration, fairness and some her party’s key constituencies, may not (surprise!) be playing too well on the doorstep.

Here’s what the (pro-Conservative) Daily Mail has to say:

Theresa May’s hopes of an Election landslide hit a setback last night when a poll showed strong opposition to her plan to make more elderly people pay for care. A Survation poll for The Mail on Sunday showed the Conservative lead over Labour has fallen to 12 per cent, a five point drop in a week. It follows the release of last week’s Tory manifesto which included social care reforms that were quickly branded a ‘Dementia Tax’ by critics. The proposals would mean that tens of thousands of people who receive care at home could face costly bills as – for the first time – the value of a person’s home will be included in their assets, with only the last £100,000 protected….

The Survation poll indicates 47 per cent oppose Mrs May’s social care funding plans, with 28 per cent in favour. Significantly, 28 per cent say the proposals have made them less likely to vote Tory, with eight per cent more likely to do so. More than half say it has made them more worried about getting older, caring for elderly relatives, owning a house and securing their children’s future.

They are right to be worried.  They are also right to be angry. Commonsense would suggest that those with large enough assets to loot will be those who have already over their lifetimes paid a disproportionate amount of tax. May’s plan is just one more turn of egalitarianism’s ratchet, unusual only in the extent of its cruelty.  It is a reminder that the redistributionist state is also the predatory state.

And then there’s this (via the Guardian)

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 also overburdening 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.” Under the plan in future, he added: “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 will be intact, Humphries said…

A separate analysis by Luke Clement, professor of law at Leeds University, argued the proposals could act as 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.

May, a foe of the free market, cannot, of course, be expected to understand incentives.

It has also emerged that May, a politician already notorious for her high-handed and secretive style, ‘smuggled in’ this dramatic change of policy at the last moment –and without consulting senior elected colleagues.

Financial Times:

The plan…was added at the last minute by Nick Timothy, the prime minister’s co-head of staff, party figures have admitted. Both Boris Johnson, foreign secretary, and Damian Green, welfare secretary, refused to say whether the cabinet was briefed ahead of the policy announcement, which would see those needing care at home having to pay for it from the value of their property until their last £100,000.

…One senior Tory told the Financial Times “it wasn’t really run by anyone outside the inner circle”. Party figures said that John Godfrey, head of the Downing Street policy unit, had advised against the move.

Timothy, whose influence on other areas of policy has been malign, should be shown the door.

Writing in the Guardian, Will Hutton, someone who usually can be relied upon to get things wrong, unpacks the logic of May’s plan with welcome, if unexpected, accuracy:

The manner of death is not in anyone’s hands. You may be lucky like the majority and die peacefully, requiring not much money on care bills except for the last few months. Or you may be unlucky and suffer from infirmity or Alzheimer’s or dementia. In which case you will be among the 10% whose care bills could climb above £100,000.

This is what moral philosophers call brute bad luck. You and your family did nothing to deserve this – no virtuous lifestyle nor prudent saving could have prevented it. The correct response is collectively to insure ourselves, like we do for the risk of a fire or a car accident, so that if we do have the bad luck to have an expensive old age the insurance will take care of it. To keep the cost of the insurance down, there can be a cap on payouts after which one has to pay for oneself.

This was the Cameron approach with the cap of £72,000 and the paradox is that the opponent of “selfish individualism” and champion of mutual obligation should insist on the reverse for the elderly. Mrs May does not recognise the role of brute bad luck in the policy towards social care; rather, there are warm words about the importance of saving for old age rather than relying on the taxpayer – and then the same philosophy is used to justify asking the taxpayer to be paid back for care bills from property sales after death. In this universe, all luck is deserved and social insurance is only another way of raising taxes.

To be fair, there is not quite such a contradiction as Hutton makes out between May’s championing of mutual obligation (newspeak, in this context, for collectivism) and her assault on the aspirational classes  (“our people”, as Mrs. Thatcher once described them), people so shockingly “selfish” that they pay their own way (and that of quite a few others) and want to pass on something to the next generation.

May will still win the election (and with the malevolent Corbyn against her, that’s a relief), but if this latest vindictive turn in her policies cuts into her likely majority, that’s no bad thing.  She’s clearly not someone who can be trusted with too much power.

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