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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By refusing to stand down, Jeremy Corbyn has betrayed the British working classes

The most successful Labour politicians of the last decades brought to politics not only a burning desire to improve the lot of the working classes but also an understanding of how free market economies work.

Jeremy Corbyn has defended his refusal to resign the leadership of the Labour Party on the grounds that to do so would be betraying all his supporters in the country at large. But by staying on as leader of the party and hence dooming it to heavy defeat in the next general election he would be betraying the interests of the working classes this country. More years of Tory rule means more years of austerity, further cuts in public services, and perpetuation of the gross inequality of incomes. The former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Seema Malhotra, made the same point when she told Newsnight that “We have an unelectable leader, and if we lose elections then the price of our failure is paid by the working people of this country and their families who do not have a government to stand up for them.”

Of course, in different ways, many leading figures in the Labour movement, particularly in the trade unions, have betrayed the interests of the working classes for several decades. For example, in contrast with their union counterparts in the Scandinavian countries who pressurised governments to help move workers out of declining industries into expanding sectors of the economy, many British trade union leaders adopted the opposite policy. More generally, the trade unions have played a big part in the election of Labour party leaders, like Corbyn, who were unlikely to win a parliamentary election, thereby perpetuating the rule of Tory governments dedicated to promoting the interests of the richer sections of society.

And worse still, even in opposition Corbyn failed to protect the interests of the working classes. He did this by his abysmal failure to understand the significance of Tory economic policies. For example, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer had finished presenting the last budget, in which taxes were reduced for the rich at the expense of public services that benefit everybody, especially the poor, the best John McConnell could do – presumably in agreement with Corbyn – was to stand up and mock the Chancellor for having failed to fulfill his party’s old promise to balance the budget by this year! Obviously neither he nor Corbyn understood that had the government done so the effects on working class standards of living would have been even worse. Neither of them seems to have learnt that the object of fiscal policy is to balance the economy, not the budget.

Instead, they have gone along with Tory myth about the importance of not leaving future generations with the burden of debt. They have never asked “To whom would future generations owe this debt?” To their dead ancestors? To Martians? When Cameron and his accomplices banged on about how important it was to cut public expenditures because the average household in Britain owed about £3,000, they never pointed out that this meant that the average household in Britain was a creditor to the tune of about the same amount (after allowing for net overseas lending). Instead they went along with all this balanced budget nonsense. They did not understand that balancing the budget was just the excuse needed to justify the prime objective of the Tory Party, namely to reduce public expenditures in order to be able to reduce taxes on the rich. For Corbyn and his allies to go along with an overriding objective of balancing the budget is breathtaking economic illiteracy. And the working classes have paid the price.

One left-wing member of the panel on Question Time last week complained that the interests of the working classes were ignored by “the elite”. But it is members of the elite who have been most successful in promoting the interests of the working classes. The most successful pro-working class governments since the war have all been led mainly by politicians who would be castigated for being part of the elite, such as Clement Atlee, Harold Wilson, Tony Crosland, Barbara Castle, Richard Crossman, Roy Jenkins, Denis Healey, Tony Blair, and many others too numerous to list. They brought to politics not only a burning desire to improve the lot of the working classes (from which some of them, like me, had emerged) and reduce inequality in society but also an understanding of how free market economies work and how to deal with its deficiencies. This happens to be more effective than ignorant rhetoric that can only stroke the egos and satisfy the vanity of demagogues

People of stature like those I have singled out above seem to be much more rare in politics these days. But there is surely no need to go to other extreme and persist with leaders like Jeremy Corbyn, a certain election loser, however pure his motives and principled his ambitions.

Wilfred Beckerman is an Emeritus Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford, and was, for several years in the 1970s, the economics correspondent for the New Statesman