Social care is one of those subjects in politics that not many people like talking about. Just like planning for death, no one really likes to think that they, too, will get old one day, and so it gets pushed to the back of the mind.
The healthy thing in recent months has been the fact that, in England at least, this issue has finally gained prominence. It’s not one that’s going to set the world on fire, but due to the ageing population, the increase in life expectancy, and the general rising costs of healthcare, there is no way that we can carry on like we are now.
What we are seeing is the fact that, for what we want our state to do, we simply do not pay enough tax. The accusation hurled at Britain has long been “a European style welfare system on an American style tax system”. While that is an over-simplification, it’s broadly along the right path. We do not have the money to give our population dignified, free, healthcare in their old age.
So instead, we get a distorted debate. One that is about tax, and yet never talks about tax. Instead, we get talk of a levy to be paid on death. And since death is a certainty, this is, indeed, a compulsory levy. A compulsory levy is a tax. But don’t tell the politicians we’ve got them sussed.
The debate over social care nicely illustrates the Orwellian language involved in the politics of today. We get one side talking about something without actually saying it, and then the other calling them out on it, but using extremely emotive and divisive language: “the death tax”.
Hardly grounds for a healthy and open debate.
Frankly, though, this is one of the areas in which democracy gets in the way. The imminent election means there is no chance of politicians being honest, or us having a discussion between the various stakeholders to produce a united way forward. After all, we all want the same thing: care in our old age which isn’t going to bankrupt the country.
In truth, it’s rather surprising that Labour have brought the issue back up today by insisting that the compulsory levy, payable on death, is probably the only way forward. Perhaps, with their declining poll position, they’ve decided they now have nothing to lose, and want to keep painting the Tories as “policy light” while they are still ready to “take the tough decisions”
In policy terms, I think they are right. When’s the best time to tax someone? When they die and don’t need it any more. Better that then ask them to pay for it during their life, and make them sell their house, etc.
But I regret the relentless march of taxes that aren’t honest about what they actually are. National Insurance, anyone?