About half of people die with an estate worth £100,000 or less. The poorer half. You’d think you could fairly describe as progressive a policy that relieved them – but not the richer half – from all burden of paying for their social care.
In weighing up the attractiveness of the policy you’d add a few other elements to the scales. The changing demographics of our population – more and more will need social care and someone will have to pay: so who? The fact that older people are richer: of the different types of household by wealth mapped by the ONS the second wealthiest was couples both of whom were over 65 with no children. The wealthiest? Couples one of whom was over 65 with no children. The fact the burden would ultimately be born not by people who had worked for that money but by their inheritors who had not. The policy would level out inter-generational inequities.
No, the policy wasn’t perfect. Yes, there will be market failures in products that release equity. Yes, it is odd that the some risks are wholly born by the State and other similar risks it shares with individuals. But no policy is perfect. And, for me at least, these criticisms are relatively minor.
So what does the u-turn – recognising that as yet there’s very little detail over its shape – really signal about our next Government?
That’s what interests me.
The rhetoric of the Conservative Manifesto is, with exceptions, Milibandist. It proceeds from a premise I share – that the present shape of capitalism does not suit society at large or even (over time) capitalism.
Of course, its exceptions are quite something. Its stance on immigration is economically insensible and culturally anathema to me. And to place at the forefront of your campaign a policy you know you will not deliver is hugely damaging to our democracy. The Manifesto stance on Brexit is, of course, a major problem for those who believe that the economic and cultural life of the nation is better served by our continued membership of the EU. And its absence of detail – striking compared with its 2015 predecessor – is consistent with Theresa May’s inclination to coalesce power around her personally rather than to share it with others. As someone who believes strongly in good governance this makes me deeply uncomfortable.
But then (at least if you believe the rhetoric of the Manifesto) the shape of Brexit under Theresa May may not differ so profoundly from that under Jeremy Corbyn. And perhaps we live in a time where only those with autocratic tendencies can get stuff done?
And here we get to the core of the issue.
Can you trust the rhetoric? How do you, as Andrew Rawnsley yesterday asked, respond to a political party that asks the country to trust it with the future by disowning its own past?
And this, for me, is the importance of the u-turn on social care.
Here was a policy that began to address some of the issues around inter-generational fairness, that was progressive, that placed the burden of funding social care on those who would inherit money rather than (as with Labour’s offer) those who strive (in highly paid jobs) and earn.
And yet, faced with pressure from Tebbit and Redwood’s Bow Group, and aided by McDonnell’s unattractive opportunism, Theresa May crumbled. And what, ultimately, the u-turn signals is this.
She may have diagnosed the disease. But she lacks the strength to deliver the medicine to cure it.