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As if we weren’t SAD enough …

Outside the box on Stiletto Wheels Blog

Thinking Outside The Box

Initially, I was pretty mad when I read about the ‘dementia tax’ unveiled as part of the Tory manifesto.

Now, just a few days later, it’s impossible not to laugh as Tory politicians scrabble together arguments to soften its’ impact on their constituency voters and Theresa May is forced to placate a huge number of fuming property-owning voters with the promise of a cap on ‘care’ expenditure.

What does it say about May and her inner circle that no one was able to anticipate this? I heard an interview where Mrs May was asked, ‘How is this fair?’ She replied, ‘It just is.’

Er, no, I don’t think so … not unless we think asset-stripping SAD (sick and disabled) people is okay and, mostly, we don’t. Part of our social contract is to provide a safety net for those to whom the worst happens – it’s why we all, rich and poor, agree to pay for social welfare because none of us, rich and poor, can know when misfortune will strike.

That aside – and you may or may not agree with that principle of the social contract – whilst it’s one thing to say we haven’t paid enough for social welfare to support the ageing population – a point we can probably all agree on – it’s quite another to say that we’ll bridge the gap by stripping the assets of a specific segment of the SAD (the sick and disabled) – that is, only those who have the misfortune to require home or residential care.

From this unfortunate few alone, the state will place a charge – to an unlimited amount – on all the assets they’ve built up from their post-tax income, or generated from wise investments or created over an entire career, excepting only £100,000. And this is supposed to bridge the gulf between insufficient care and not?

Wow. As I said in my title for this posting – and I declare my personal investment in this topic: as if we weren’t SAD enough …

You know, just being chronically (meaning long-term) sick and disabled.

Now, the state wants unlimited lien on our assets too … just because we need long-term personal care rather than short-term, but still extraordinarily expensive, NHS cover.

I wonder what is more expensive – NHS operations, beds, drugs over ten years, say, or at home care, over the same period for people with MS, or one of many other similarly severely disabling neurological illnesses? Why should one be charged for care and not the other just because of the location where the ‘caring’ takes place?

People are calling it a dementia tax but there are huge numbers with other illnesses and conditions who will be drawn into this too, many of them younger people who need decades of care. Do we asset-strip the parents of SAD children for their care under this policy? Good grief, I wouldn’t want to be the political party doing that.

And, what about the partners and dependants of the SAD who are to be asset stripped?

My husband’s career aspirations have already been curtailed by my illness. His earning potential derailed. His physical freedoms constrained by my dependence on him. Of course this is partially his choice – to stay with me and not leave – but it’s a bit of a Hobson’s choice for the well partner of someone who becomes disabled, isn’t it? Damned if you don’t stay, damned if you do, right?

Additionally, he, like many others, has accepted, with good – or reasonable – grace, not only the unquantifiable opportunity cost of his career but the actual, immense,  real financial burdens of my illness, incurred as we have joint income above means test levels.

Whilst many may think us lucky to be able to afford it – and they are right, of course – these huge costs are like additional taxation for us – offset to a small degree by DLA (a non means-tested allowance, being replaced by PIP, specifically given to offset additional costs arising through disability).

The illness and disability costs we necessarily incur – to keep me safe and comfortable and my husband in a job – are vastly above the amounts of DLA/PIP received, meaning our post-tax, post illness, net income is about 25% of our gross income. Our effective rate of tax is about 75%, very much higher than others at our income level or any income level … all because I’m ill even though my husband is not.

In the almost twenty years I’ve been ill, we’ve paid over £300,000 of post DLA, post-tax income on personal care and home help plus as much again on home adaptations, equipment – like wheelchairs, adapted cars and so on – consumables etc. and that’s with no care or help in the mornings, evenings or weekends when we manage alone. That’s over £1million of gross earned income and my husband has shared it all.

I’m not complaining about this … much. Self-payment gives more flexibility, choice and better quality of life and it’s right that those who are able to contribute more, should.  I do not expect the government to finance my lifestyle. But to what level must my contribution go? Is it limitless. Does the state have the right to all my, and my husband’s, assets because I am ill? That is the pertinent question.

Right now, I’m still alive – I feel like I should add ‘sadly’ here – draining us both of every £ we make into the uncertain future. Might be another twenty years and another £1m, hey-ho, good times. Eek.

Under this supposedly ‘fair’ Tory manifesto policy, despite supporting myself as far as I can for as long as I am able, on top of all the taxes everyone pays, even our home – a joint asset – may be taken if our retirement income is insufficient to cover my dependency needs into my old age.

What happens to my husband if he gets ill or to our dependants? Tougher luck, d’you suppose … how tough do we want it to get for a SAD family when the proverbial hits the fan?

Oh, I guess I should say that all our joint ‘wealth’ is income based. Nothing inherited, on either side, here. As for so many others, what we have bought and invested in from what’s left to us, after tax and illness costs, is all we have.

I’m wondering if the next move will be to demand all the chronically SAD simply sign over their salaries, assets and pension funds to the state on diagnosis of chronic illness or disability – you know, an effective tax rate of 100% for the especially unfortunate few who get to prop up everyone else who’s luckier than they are. Is that fair?

Or, like in the Monty Python films, this general election will see those with short-term illnesses and the curable in a long [financially happy] Tory-voting queue whilst those with long-term illnesses [financial crucifixion] will be outside in the rain, scratching their heads, thinking, ‘WTF…’

Though maybe not, with several weeks ahead of the worried well screaming from the shires and Mrs May already testing the waters of a £150-300k cap on asset-stripping.

And isn’t that a ridiculous irony? Politicians do react In such a knee-jerk manner, don’t they? Why would they not sound out such a significant policy change as this? They might have found us property owners pragmatically responsive if they had.

For what it’s worth, I do think those of us with property wealth should be contributing to resolve this problem as young people should not have to take the burden of baby boom elder care on through higher taxation.

My preference would be a % solution to allow for differing property values across the country. Yes, I know, it’s a wealth tax but what else can we do at this point? We all paid what we were asked at the time and it wasn’t enough so now we need to pay more. Fine, I’m a grownup, I can accept that but let’s spread the burden across everyone.

Charge a maximum of say 20% of property value on everyone which will cover your own care, if you need it in the first instance, with all unused revenue collected to go to a general care fund hypothecated for this purpose.

If there was a politician brave enough and smart enough to give a sensibly costed plan on this kind of basis, most home-owners of the baby boom generation would get behind it, I think. None of us want to see the next generation suffer for us.

Is Theresa May that politician? Maybe we will find out tonight when she is interviewed by Andrew Neil on BBC1.

Meanwhile, I’m still laughing at the spectacle of the Tories doing their level best to reduce their own majority. Who needs an opposition?

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