Straight talking, honest politics: put up taxes on over-40s to pay for care in case they need it when they are older

A poll suggests a majority of voters support higher national insurance to pay for social care, which could underpin a cross-party consensus on the way forward

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said he was attracted to a social care plan put forward by MPs that would see over-40s taxed
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said he was attracted to a social care plan put forward by MPs that would see over-40s taxed

One of the effects of Brexit has been to distract attention from other pressing questions of public policy. The scandal of “social care” – the cloudy euphemism for looking after old people who cannot fully look after themselves – has been dragging on since long before the EU referendum.

It was at the 2010 election that Andy Burnham, then health secretary, found the rug of cross-party consensus pulled out from under his feet. He was accused by the Conservatives of planning a “death tax” to pay for social care. Seven years later, the Conservatives reaped the whirlwind when Theresa May’s plan to require some owners of modest homes to sell up to pay for their care was called a “dementia tax” – a plan so toxic it alone was probably enough to deprive her party of its Commons majority.

Now there are signs that our political system is belatedly beginning to move in the right direction towards bipartisan agreement on the question of how to pay for better social care, which will be needed by millions more people in future.

As we report today, the Local Government Association, representing the country’s councils, calls on the government to increase national taxes to pay for the level of care that people expect.

It publishes an opinion poll by Britain Thinks that finds 56 per cent of people support higher national insurance contributions to make up the shortfall, with only 18 per cent opposed.

This comes three days after Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said he was attracted to a plan put forward by a joint select committee of MPs in the summer. Under this scheme, all workers over the age of 40 would pay a levy that goes into a fund earmarked for social care. The MPs pointed to the system in Germany, where the levy is 2.5 per cent of incomes and is charged – unlike national insurance – on workers and pensioners alike.

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It would be quite possible for such a levy to be incorporated into the national insurance system, which acts increasingly as a form of income tax, but with a more acceptable name. The name is important, because the concept of insurance is important both for securing public consent and for describing the purpose of the scheme.

The point of social care is that most people will not need it, but for the large and growing minority who will, the costs can be daunting. Hence the idea that all over-40s should pool the risk and contribute to a fund for those who will need it.

It may not be the perfect plan, but it has the huge advantage of cross-party support, which is the only foundation on which a long-term policy can be built. It may be that the distraction of Brexit has allowed a more pragmatic politics to flourish away from the clash of great egos and ideologies.

The Independent has long argued for better public services – in particular health, including mental health and social care, education, policing and social security – paid for by higher taxes.

Let us hope that this sensible, civilised approach is finally gaining ground.

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