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My nan's house will probably be used to pay for social care – and that's fair

 The reaction to the Conservative social care minister’s comments ignores reality. 

My nan turns 96 today (Wednesday 18th October) but it won’t be much of a celebration. I’ll go and see her with my 73-year-old father at the care home where she resides. If she’s having a good day, nan might remember who I am – her only grandchild; I say “good day” because last time dad visited, she asked him if she’d ever had children. Despite being by now somewhat inured to nan’s fading, dad was naturally somewhat stunned, and more shocked when a care worker said nan claimed to have voted Tory all her life – she’s a lifelong socialist and Labour supporter who once showed Dennis Potter round her local group. Dementia is a miserable end, less a full stop than a trailing off…

Nan was placed in the care home when social services deemed her unfit to remain living in her own home following a fall. In the care home she had another fall and broke her hip, leading to another hospital stay; £600 continued to be extracted from nan’s account even when she wasn’t at the home, which is rather shabby and depressing, though the staff do a remarkable job.

We consider ourselves lucky that nan and granddad managed to accumulate considerable savings in the course of their 73 years of married life. Granddad was a tool-maker, nan worked in head office at Tesco, but being of that generation who grew up in the Depression then served in the war (granddad was a mechanic in the RAF) they were far from extravagant: no foreign holidays, no flash cars; granddad never learned to drive and commuted to work on a scooter. When granddad died three years ago he left a type-written note insisting on no fuss, no funeral.

Now, the money nan and granddad saved over a lifetime is draining away at an incredible rate and when it’s gone, their home will be next: the council house they agonised about buying, feeling it was morally wrong but in the end purchasing so they’d never be forced into a tower block. The house – an end of terrace on a former council estate – is far from remarkable, but in these crazy times must be worth a tidy sum. In her will nan specified that I’d receive a quarter share, along with her three children. Naturally, though I want nan (who’s no monarchist) to get a telegram from the Queen, a part of me has sometimes idly planned what I might do with my share - now it’s possible that share could be vastly reduced.

But do you know what? It’s tough. It’s not the government’s fault I was too lazy and/or unsuccessful to buy a house, that people are living longer and doctors can patch up every ailment (nan’s had cancer, heart attacks, strokes, diabetes… a tough old bird) but they can’t patch up the most complicated organism in the known universe: the human brain. Dementia now kills more old people than any other illness – but more pertinently, it can takes years, or decades, to do so. Families continue to take the strain when possible, but not all old people have children, and in many cases – such as in my family – the sufferer’s children are themselves pensioners with health problems, physically and emotionally unable to take on the daunting task of caring for a parent who may be aggressive, frail, and who may no longer recognise them.

That’s why I’m puzzled by the reaction to Conservative social care minister Jackie Doyle-Price’s comments, when she told the Social Market Foundation: “The reality is that the taxpayer shouldn’t necessarily be propping up people to keep their property and hand it on to their children when they’re generating massive care needs.” Labour, which opportunistically “leaked” the video footage, was quick to respond, with Jeremy Corbyn denouncing the “dementia tax” and promising to invest an extra £8bn per year to the NHS.

Unfortunately, it seems optimistic that £8bn per year will cover the cost of age-related illnesses in the coming decades. In any case, why should the tax-payer subsidise social care when an old person owns property? Why should a school-leaver or university graduate, no doubt hoping one day to own a home of their own, pay more in taxes so someone like me can sit on my laurels and wait for nan to die to subsidise my sedentary lifestyle?

Labour’s stance should be baffling, except of course it’s far easier to slam the government and make crowd-pleasing statements than face up to what looks set to be the biggest social challenge this country has faced for decades – far more daunting, I would suggest, than Brexit.

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Tackling tuition fees may not be the vote-winner the government is hoping for

In theory, Theresa May is right to try to match Labour’s policy. But could it work?

Part of the art of politics is to increase the importance of the issues you win on and to decrease or neutralise the importance of the issues your opponent wins on. That's part of why Labour will continue to major on police cuts, as a device to make the usually Labour-unfriendly territory of security more perilous for the Tories.

One of the advantages the Conservatives have is that they are in government – I know it doesn't always look like it – and so they can do a lot more to decrease the importance of Labour's issues than the Opposition can do to theirs.

So the theory of Theresa May's big speech today on higher education funding and her announcement of a government review into the future of the university system is sound. Tuition fees are an area that Labour win on, so it makes sense to find a way to neutralise the issue.

Except there are a couple of problems with May's approach. The first is that she has managed to find a way to make a simple political question incredibly difficult for herself. The Labour offer is “no tuition fees”, so the Conservatives essentially either need to match that or move on. But the one option that has been left off the table is abolition, the only policy lever that could match Labour electorally.

The second, even bigger problem is that it it turns out that tuition fees might not have been the big election-moving event that we initially thought they were. The British Electoral Survey caused an earthquake of their own by finding that the “youthquake” – the increase in turn-out among 18-24-year-olds – never happened. Younger voters were decisive, both in how they switched to Labour and in the overall increase in turnout among younger voters, but it was in that slightly older 25-35 bracket (and indeed the 35-45 one as well) that the big action occurred.

There is an astonishingly powerful belief among the Conservative grassroots, such as it is, that Jeremy Corbyn's NME interview in which the he said that existing tuition fee debt would be “dealt with” was decisive. That belief, I'm told, extends all the way up to May's press chief, Robbie Gibb. Gibb is the subject of increasing concern among Tory MPs and ministers, who regularly ask journalists what they make of Robbie, if Robbie is doing alright, before revealing that they find his preoccupations – Venezuela, Corbyn's supposed pledge to abolish tuition fee debt – troublingly marginal.

Because the third problem is that any policy action on tuition fees comes at a huge cost to the Treasury, a cost that could be spent easing the pressures on the NHS, which could neutralise a Labour strength, or the financial strains on schools, another area of Labour strength. Both of which are of far greater concern to the average thirtysomething than what anyone says or does about tuition fees.

Small wonder that Team Corbyn are in an ebullient mood as Parliament returns from recess.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.