Today sees the publication of Andrew Dilnot’s report into how we should fund care and support. In a nutshell, he’s suggesting that there should be a cap of between £35,000 and £50,000 on the contributions people make towards their care in their last years, with the remaining cost covered by the Treasury.
The idea is that this will prevent many elderly people from having to sell their homes to pay for care, which is something that all politicians and commentators seem to be agreeing is a good thing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen any time soon.
The trouble is that it’s going to cost money. Dilnot estimates £1.7bn, but there are other, higher estimates floating around this morning – Ben Brogan is saying £2-3bn, rising to £5bn after 10 years, for instance. The Telegraph has splashed that taxes would have to go up to pay for it.
The Treasury hates spending money at the best of times. At a time when the Chancellor has staked his political future and reputation on reducing the deficit, it hates it even more. The Independent is quoting a Lib Dem source this morning predicting that George Osborne will “strangle the proposals ‘at birth’”. The official lines out of the Treasury are positive but very non-committal.
Cameron really is in a Catch-22 over this one. Either admit that you can’t afford the proposals in the foreseeable future, good as they are, and shelve them, or go ahead and implement them by asserting himself over the Treasury.
Of course, what will really happen is that there will be a lengthy consultation, during which cabinet ministers will pray very hard that care for the elderly drops off the agenda, and that we don’t have another Southern Cross-type scandal to get everyone all worked up about it again.
But that isn’t going to work - at the press conference this morning launching the report Dilnot has already responded to suggestions that his proposals could be postponed by saying that they should be implemented "with pace". He’s not going to stand idly by if they get delayed, nor are many MPs (as Penny Mordaunt wrote in Total Politics a few months ago).
This is an issue that demands decisive action. Whether the coalition will provide it remains to be seen.
Total Politics has a free weekly Friday email bulletin. Follow this link to register.