Morning Call: pick of the comment

Today's papers on Iran, Iraq and Italy

1. Iran: On collision course again (Guardian)

The Guardian leader calls for "smart" engagement with Iran's power centres, rather than another round of crippling sanctions.

2. Blair's critics are asking the wrong questions (Times)

David Aaronovitch says that Tony Blair's critics are wrong to focus too much on WMDs and the run-up to war: the real question is whether this detracted from planning for postwar reconstruction.

3. Never mind bodyguards -- only politics matters (Independent)

Peter Popham says yesterday's attack on Silvio Berlusconi has been politicised, and discusses the "heavy political weather" in Italy.

4. Cameron must answer the Ashcroft question in full (Times)

Rachel Sylvester says that David Cameron must answer the Lord Ashcroft question in full to tackle voters' sense that "there is one rule for them and another for us".

5. It is not only the young who suffer (Independent)

Mary Dejevsky says that focusing on child asylum-seekers alone simplifies the issue -- most come with parents attached.

6. Litigation tourism (Financial Times)

The FT joins the calls for reform to libel law in its leader, suggesting that privacy laws be strengthened and remodelled with a stronger public-interest defence.

7. This is bigger than climate change. It is a battle to redefine humanity (Guardian)

George Monbiot argues that survival means accepting that we must live within limits.

8. Torture and transparency (Independent)

The Independent leader denounces as "self-serving rubbish" David Miliband's attempts to prevent the disclosure of a high court judgment on the case of the British Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed.

 

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Theresa May's U-Turn may have just traded one problem for another

The problems of the policy have been moved, not eradicated. 

That didn’t take long. Theresa May has U-Turned on her plan to make people personally liable for the costs of social care until they have just £100,000 worth of assets, including property, left.

As the average home is valued at £317,000, in practice, that meant that most property owners would have to remortgage their house in order to pay for the cost of their social care. That upwards of 75 per cent of baby boomers – the largest group in the UK, both in terms of raw numbers and their higher tendency to vote – own their homes made the proposal politically toxic.

(The political pain is more acute when you remember that, on the whole, the properties owned by the elderly are worth more than those owned by the young. Why? Because most first-time buyers purchase small flats and most retirees are in large family homes.)

The proposal would have meant that while people who in old age fall foul of long-term degenerative illnesses like Alzheimers would in practice face an inheritance tax threshold of £100,000, people who die suddenly would face one of £1m, ten times higher than that paid by those requiring longer-term care. Small wonder the proposal was swiftly dubbed a “dementia tax”.

The Conservatives are now proposing “an absolute limit on the amount people have to pay for their care costs”. The actual amount is TBD, and will be the subject of a consultation should the Tories win the election. May went further, laying out the following guarantees:

“We are proposing the right funding model for social care.  We will make sure nobody has to sell their family home to pay for care.  We will make sure there’s an absolute limit on what people need to pay. And you will never have to go below £100,000 of your savings, so you will always have something to pass on to your family.”

There are a couple of problems here. The proposed policy already had a cap of sorts –on the amount you were allowed to have left over from meeting your own care costs, ie, under £100,000. Although the system – effectively an inheritance tax by lottery – displeased practically everyone and spooked elderly voters, it was at least progressive, in that the lottery was paid by people with assets above £100,000.

Under the new proposal, the lottery remains in place – if you die quickly or don’t require expensive social care, you get to keep all your assets, large or small – but the losers are the poorest pensioners. (Put simply, if there is a cap on costs at £25,000, then people with assets below that in value will see them swallowed up, but people with assets above that value will have them protected.)  That is compounded still further if home-owners are allowed to retain their homes.

So it’s still a dementia tax – it’s just a regressive dementia tax.

It also means that the Conservatives have traded going into the election’s final weeks facing accusations that they will force people to sell their own homes for going into the election facing questions over what a “reasonable” cap on care costs is, and you don’t have to be very imaginative to see how that could cause them trouble.

They’ve U-Turned alright, but they may simply have swerved away from one collision into another.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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