CommentPlus: pick of the papers

The ten must-read pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Now "Honest Vince" plays fast and loose (Financial Times)

Vince Cable may be the people's choice for chancellor, but his tax plan is misleading the voters, says Philip Stephens. Only about 6 or 7 per cent of Cable's £16bn income-tax cut would go to the poorest 10 per cent.

2. For the incredible Mr Osborne this may be a zigzag too far (Guardian)

Meanwhile, Polly Toynbee argues that George Osborne will come to regret his extraordinary tax-cut promise. Few voters will believe that he can cut taxes and the deficit at the same time.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

3. Care for the elderly affects us all, and Labour would handle it best after the general election (Daily Telegraph)

Labour's plan for a national care service is a reminder of what politics is for, writes Mary Riddell. But the Tories, committed to an inheritance-tax cut for the richest estates, show no sign of favouring equality in old age.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

4. And I thought the Tories had changed (Independent)

The Tories' inconsistency exposes their lack of principle, writes Steve Richards. The party's latest, rushed tax plan compounds the sense of amateurishness around the leadership.

5. Tories are still failing the Bridget Jones test (Times)

Elsewhere, Rachel Sylvester says voters still feel that Labour represents their values better than the Conservaitves. The recession, which forced the Tories to call for austerity and public spending cuts, has damaged them more than Labour.

6. The euro's big fat failed wedding (Financial Times)

The euro increasingly resembles an unhappy marriage between incompatible partners, writes Gideon Rachman. The old European currencies may be less obsolete than we thought.

7. Why do our paranoid, anti-fun police seem to think they run the country? (Guardian)

The police disrupt peaceful festivals for no obvious purpose other than to spoil people's fun, writes George Monbiot. We need to reassert the right to gather in public spaces.

8. Winston Churchill: an unlikely adviser in the Afghan conflict (Times)

General Stanley McChrystal, commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, is right to return to Churchill's writings for guidance, writes Ben Macintyre.

9. If we're well, we simply don't need medicine (Daily Telegraph)

Pharmaceutical companies are cynically fuelling the demand for "lifestyle drugs", argues James Le Fanu.

10. When authority goes AWOL, savagery fills the gap (Independent)

The tragic murder of Sofyen Belamouadden proves the need to provide proper policing of transport hubs, writes Mary Dejevsky.

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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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