Making social care funding fairer?

Andrew Dilnot, chair of the Commission that published Fairer Care Funding, concludes that the social care funding system is ‘confusing, unfair and unsustainable’. The report argues for an eligibility and assessment regime that is universal and portable, and better aligned with the benefits system. It suggests a lifetime contribution cap to social care at £35k, a higher threshold for means-testing of £100k, and the removal of means-tests altogether for young adults with existing needs.

It makes the case for  a shift away from the uncertainty associated with care in old age, and a greater ‘awareness’ on the part of individuals of the need to plan for the future. Not just by saving for their pensions, but for their social care costs too. To this end the Commission recommends the development of a national strategy, and the establishment of a statutory information and advice duty. It assumes two things. That social care costs will continue to rise and that there will need to be a renegotiation of who pays – individuals or the state. Or more accurately, individuals or society.

Much of this is actually quite positive in as far as it is a sober assessment of a genuine problem i.e. how to deal with the challenges of an ageing population and the health and social care needs associated with it. This makes a change from the usual hysterical language about time bombs. Indeed, it reminded me of an excellent book by the economist Phil Mullan written over a decade ago now. The Imaginary Time Bomb: Why an Ageing Population is not a Social Problem (1999) says we shouldn’t panic. Indeed, as the report also says, we should be celebrating the fact that we live so much longer than we used to; and, says Mullan, in economic terms the problem could be worse. He explains that the ‘dependency ratio’ whereby the working population supports those who don’t work could be higher.

That is, it costs a lot more as a society to support children and young people, than it does to care for the elders. So an ageing society is not only a good thing in itself, but in terms of the cost borne by the working population, far preferable to one that’s getting younger. However, how those costs are administered and distributed – via the market-led financial products anticipated by Dilnot, or by the State through taxes – is actually secondary and should be up for debate. While we can more than cope with the burden on society, it is the transfer of that burden onto individuals as opposed to society as a whole, that needs to be questioned.

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