The Tory answer to the question “who pays for social care?”: You!

Inheritance
Image via WikiHow

Two excellent responses to the Conservatives’ social care manifesto proposal: Torsten Bell at the Resolution Foundation and, of course, The King’s Fund.

It took me quite a long time to figure out the main implications of the proposals (I’m not sure I understand them even now).

We can summarise them as:

  • If you have assets under £100,000, you’re a winner
  • If you have assets over £100,000, you’re not a winner

In essence, the Tory answer to the question “who pays for social care?” is “you, not us”.

Coupled with the proposal to scrap the universall Winter Fuel Allowance, one argument is that the Conseratives’ proposals are progressive, redistributive mechanisms that will benefit people from lower incomes, or working-age people who have been reliant on social care for their adult lives (and are less likely to have built up assets).

The counter argument – including when comparing the proposals against the Dilnot Commission’s proposals – is that these proposals create a further breakdown in the inherent universalism and sharing of risk that only government can provide (see also: the NHS).

These proposals may provide a financial solution to the social care crisis*, but they certainly don’t shore up the idea that “we’re all in this together”.

*Though deferred payments from housing still requires large short- and medium-term injections of cash, and we don’t know how inheritance law and behaviour will respond to these announcements.

Previous Tory views on disability benefits

The government yesterday launched its consultation on reforms to Disability Living Allowance. I blogged extensively on it yesterday.

One of the huge – and, as far as I can see, new – announcements was that the government is considering rolling out the cuts to DLA not just to the 1.8m of working age in receipt of DLA, but also those under 16 and those over 65.

Given this, I thought it was timely to recall some recent history.

As part of their Green and White Papers on adult social care, Labour suggested using £100m of the Attendance Allowance budget to help pay for the National Care Service. (To put that figure in context, the Attendance Allowance budget for 2009/10 was £7.505bn.)

In response to the potential idea (contained in the Green Paper), Andrew Lansley and Theresa May said this, launching a “campaign to protect Britain’s pensioners”:

Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Theresa May and Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley today pledged that the Conservatives would campaign to Protect Britain’s Pensioners against Gordon Brown’s plan to scrap the Disability Living Allowance and the Attendance Allowance…

Andrew Lansley said: “As ever with Gordon Brown you have to look at the small print. In order to set up a new National Care Service he is planning to take away vital benefits from the elderly and disabled… We don’t yet know what the Government’s plan for a National Care Service would really involve, but let me make it clear – it must not be funded by snatching benefits back from 2.4 million vulnerable pensioners.

“My pledge to you today is that we will Protect Britain’s Pensioners and fight against Gordon Brown’s plan to scrap benefits for the disabled.”

Theresa May added: “Labour has chosen to penalise one of the most vulnerable groups in our society for the sake of another eye catching announcement. As with every Labour initiative, someone has to pay and, as with many of them, it is the least able who are to be forced to do so.

“These benefits are a vital support for disabled pensioners and give them the chance to have an independent life with the freedom to tailor their care to their needs.

In his own Invitation to disabled people, David Cameron promised the Tories would be:

Protecting key benefits: the Winter Fuel Allowance, free bus passes, free TV licences and the pension credit. And unlike Labour, we will not scrap Attendance Allowance or Disability Living Allowance for the over 65s.

Speaking in an opposition day debate in parliament on the topic of DLA and AA, the then Shadow Disability Minister Mark Harper MP:

criticised the proposals for taking away the “control and independence” that these benefits gives older disabled people. “This is a step backwards and I hope the 39 Labour MPs who’ve already signed the motion will vote to protect the benefits so valued by older disabled people”, he said.

Finally, Andrew Lansley cited approvingly the following early day motion at the start of an opposition day debate on disability benefits for older people:

That this House recognises the vital support that attendance allowance and disability living allowance provide for people with disabilities; notes that these benefits are intended to meet the additional costs of living with an impairment or long-term health condition; further notes with concern that approximately 2.87 million people in the UK who receive disability living allowance or attendance allowance are not eligible for social care services; acknowledges that some 20,000 individuals have petitioned the Prime Minister and many more have petitioned individual hon. and right hon. Members to ensure that these benefits are secured; welcomes the Government’s announcement that disability living allowance for people under 65 years will not be scrapped; and urges the Government to ensure that attendance allowance and disability living allowance for people aged 65 years and over are secured and not abolished as part of any future reform of the social care system.

I just thought you’d like to know.

Tory civil war nothing to be smug about

There are plenty of people on Twitter this evening being smug about the Tory civil war which appears to be breaking out.

I’m not sure there’s much to be smug about. As a Labour supporter, I was keen to stress that the Tories didn’t represent much hope or change in the election. The Big Society idea was clearly BS from the start. So let’s not be pleased when a Tory frontbencher confirms what we already knew: that Tory policies were little more than a PR line that sounded good on the news bulletins and that David Cameron’s leadership was supported by a cabal barely representative of the bulk of the Tory party.

The Tories can in-fight all they want to, and those of us on the left can take as much pleasure from it as we want.

But it’s too late to harp on about it now.

The significant likelihood is that the Tories will form the next government (probably going it alone as a minority, with a supplicant Lib Dem contribution), and Labour – who should have been able to take the Tories apart – will be left stranded at the progressive altar.

Debating the debate: responding to my fisking

The 3 leaders’ debates have been and gone. Stef gave me a good fisking after the first debate, based on a post I wrote a few weeks ago. Now taking the long view, I thought I’d respond to each of his points.

Note: my original points in italics; Stef’s argument in italics below.

1. Debating points and issues in the debates won’t really be the aim. Instead, it will be used as an opportunity to trade blows, irrespective of the content of those blows
Stef: Some real issues were aired and some interesting debates did occur, albeit they were somewhat stymied by the short amount of time available for each question.

After the first debate, it did seem that some interesting debates might occur. But they didn’t. I was wrong in the sense that the debates would be used to trade blows. Instead, they were used to just say and then repeat their key messages. This wasn’t really 3 debates; it was one debate repeated 3 times. (And the format of the debate, as Stef rightly says, stymied the debate.)

2. What goes on in the debates is almost neither here nor there; it’s how they get spun afterwards that matters.
Stef: Whether the debates were of Aristotlian profoundness or playground pettiness, how they get spun afterwards was always going to be as important, if not more important than the debate itself. This does not invalidate the debates themselves, what went on in the debate did make a difference to how the debate was spun.

My original point safely holds. There were clearly prepared lines and put-downs which were echoed in the post-match spin. Related to point 1 above, the debates weren’t genuine debates; they were just an opportunity to establish and repeat key messages, not debate the merits or otherwise of each other’s policies.

3. I’m not one of those that complains about the American-isation of politics, and in particular the cult of personality in politics. The leadership debates will do nothing to assuage people who do complain about this.
Stef: Agreed.

We were agreed on this, so I don’t need to re-emphasize I was right in the first place.

4. Does anyone remember the one-to-one interviews between Jeremy Paxman and each party leader during the 2005 general election? If you do, you’ll remember they were not known for their jibber and jabber on policy issues but instead adversarial tosh focused disproportionately on specific issues (e.g. the number of illegal immigrants in Britain).
Stef: [T]here was a disproportionate amount of focus on the issue of immigration. Yet because of the uniquely non-adversarial format of the debates, we got into more detail and more clarity on policy positions than any PMQs or Question Time.

We did get into a bit more detail about a very few things; but focusing disproporionately on specific issues – particularly immigration, interestingly enough – did happen. The debates were narrow in their focus.

5. The worry about ‘losing’ the debate, or being the subject of a terrific putdown is precisely what leads to the score-draw results assigned to most presidential debates of the last 12 years. Even though this is the first time debates have been held here, the tendency will be for the candidates to play it safe.
Stef: Yes, it was a play-it-safe debate for all the candidates but especially the ‘incumbents’ but Clegg did better because he played it less safe. Here’s betting that the next two will be a bit livelier. A real good put-down may win it.

The perspective of the 3 debates shows that the debates were primarily safe. For all the media tried to find one, there wasn’t a significant moment in any of the debates.

6. Most people think these debates will be good for Gordon Brown. I don’t agree because (1) the Tories are good at precisely this sort of thing, being the presentation of policy rather than what the policy is; and (2) it depends which Gordon Brown turns up. I suspect it will be the one that has turned up at Prime Minister’s Questions for the last 2 years, which is no good thing.
Stef: Patently wrong on both accounts. Cameron inexplicably failed to present himself and his policies at all well, usually his forte. Brown, clearly dreading the event, actually did much better than he thought he would. Although in my opinion he came ‘last’ it was not by much and he, along with Cameron, can only improve over the next two debates.

I was certainly wrong on (1): Cameron did an awful job in the first debate, did marginally better in the second and was his best in the third. Brown was consistently stodgy. The polls for each of the debates bare this out – only in rogue polls did Brown not come third.

7. The spare wheel: there will have to be air time for Nick Clegg as leader as the Lib Dems. This will just be embarrassing for everyone concerned.
Stef: Erm, I’ll let Rich defend himself on this one. Yes the Lib Dems won’t be the largest single party but hell, the kaleidoscope has been well and truly shaken.

I wouldn’t try to defend it: Clegg clearly did well. I’m going to write a post on my wider thoughts on the Lib Dems over the last two or three weeks.

8. Which television stations will cover this? If not everyone can cover every debate, what will the implication be?
Stef: 9 million viewers for a 90 minute political programme on ITV without adverts is absolutely astonishing. The Sky debate will have next to bugger all viewers, mores the shame. What I’d give for a Channel 4 debate with the mighty Jon Snow.

The ITV debate had 9.4m viewers – around 37% share of the viewing audience that night if I remember correctly. Sky had just over 4m and I still don’t know the figure for the BBC debate (which I expect will be the highest viewing audience). This partly anticipates my riposte to point 9 below, but I don’t think the turnout will be higher than the 1997 election (i.e. 71.4%). Viewing figures aren’t much of a proxy for this, but I think the media is more excited by them than the voting public.

9. Does anyone seriously think the debates will engage a wider audience than those engaged in politics anyway? I doubt it very much.
Stef: Policy by anecdote warning! This weekend I had my first ever party political conversation with my brother whom is not atypical of the disengaged voter but a good proxy. He did not watch the debates but read about them afterwards and looked at some of it on YouTube. His verdict. Cameron “Don’t trust him” (Incidentally my mother thought he looked like a porn actor) Brown “Doesn’t know what he’s doing” Clegg “Seemed straightforward and normal”. Policy by anecdote completed. This is why anecdotes are, in the right context, very powerful. My brother and many like him will possibly vote for the first time ever because of the debate and many may well vote Lib Dem, fundamentally changing the political landscape in this country. This would not have happened without the debate.

I’ll leave the point about whether or not the landscape has been changed by the Lib Dems to a later post (here’s a quick preview: I don’t think it has). But I stand by my original point: the leaders’ debates have not engaged a wider audience than those engaged in politics anyway. Ultimately, this will be borne out by the turnout of the election. But beyond the bubble that the media has created, and which has been supported by social media (especially Twitter), I suspect a significant proportion of the public will remain disengaged by this general election.