The long-term problem for "generation rent"

We need to stop relying on home-ownership as the only way to build wealth if we're to have an adequa

It's been a bad few weeks for social care. First the faltering of Southern Cross, then Panorama's revelations about abuse at residential homes. Now, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission reveals shocking levels of neglect among older people cared for at home.

Coming on top of a set of daunting demographic trends, it all means Andrew Dilnot's review of social care funding - due out in early July - could not be more timely. As things stand, Dilnot's proposals don't offer the sustainable solution they claim to. That's because they're based on an assumption of home ownership that's becoming obsolete for many ordinary families.

One of Dilnot's central recommendations is expected to be that individuals should pay for their own social care up to a lifetime cap of around £50,000. After that, the government will step in to insure people against catastrophic costs. Analysis by researchers at the University of Kent estimates average lifetime costs for residential and community-based social care at around £18,650 for men and £41,350 for women. In other words, in most cases, government won't be called on at all. As in the current social care system, under Dilnot, most people will pay for the care they need themselves.

Because few people have ready access to £50,000 in savings, Dilnot's recommendation is predicated on people releasing equity from their homes. On the upside, this means people can stay in their own home into old age while making use of their house as an asset and relieving the government of some expense. As today's asset-rich baby boomer generation nears retirement, that all seems sensible. The question is: how many of the old in future generations will have a home to draw on?

Far fewer than today. One million new households have become renters since 2005. That brings the total number of households in the private rented sector to nearly 3.5m. Although most older people on low-to-middle incomes still their own home, the percentage under 35 who are renting has tripled since 1998.

No-one can predict what will happen to house prices in the long term, but trends like these make it is possible that we are at the beginning of a major shift away from home ownership. In line with other European economies, long-term renting could become far more common. That poses a major problem for a care policy premised on equity-release from a home.

Housing is only one type of asset that people could use to pay for their social care. Other assets, from pensions to savings, could do the same job. Today, few ordinary families have much in the way of these non-physical assets. In 2008, just over a quarter of people on low-to-middle incomes reported having a pension. Less than half made regular monthly savings. For those who did, the average amount saved was less than £200 a month.

As a proud, property-owning democracy, we've come to rely on home-ownership as the way to build wealth. We've backed that up with a tax system that treats housing more favourably than other kinds of assets. But if current trends in the housing market continue, the gap between home owners and long-term renters will affect far more than the housing market. If something isn't done to boost other forms of asset-ownership, it could also bring down the social care financing system that we're about to put in place.

 

Vidhya Alakeson is Director of Research at the Resolution Foundation

Vidhya Alakeson is deputy chief executive of the Resolution Foundation

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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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