The Debate Around Social Care Policy Doesn’t Have to Feed the Culture War - It Can Feed a Class War Instead

If the NI increase tells us one thing, it’s that disability activism is the best shot we have at bridging the generational divide in UK politics.

The Debate Around Social Care Policy Doesn’t Have to Feed the Culture War - It Can Feed a Class War Instead
Image credit: Jonathan Soren Davidson for Disabled And Here on Affect the Verb

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There is a common misconception that adult social care is ‘just for old people’. This misnomer, mixed with Covid-era ableism, is allowing the government to revive the culture wars. By proposing a regressive National Insurance (NI) tax to finance adult social care, the Tories are looking to exploit generational resentments; pitting the younger, poorer, but more abled Gen Z and millennials against older, sicker, but often wealthier, home-owning boomers.

In reality, very little of the money generated from this NI levy will go towards adult social care – just the fatty offcuts. Most of it is going towards tackling the NHS waiting list backlog. Ever since the post-war consensus delivered the UK’s welfare state, social care has been the NHS’s repelling sibling, ghosted by successive governments.

The government’s National Disability Strategy (NDS), recently announced, also struck me as little more than a PR performance. By no means was this a serious intervention designed to fix systemic failures inflicted onto carers and carees alike.

Most of the money announced in the NDS isn’t new money. Disability News Service’s John Pring discovered through a freedom of information request that out of £1.6 billion proposed, only £3.6 million is actually new. A mere 28p extra per disabled person.

Their social care pledges also do nothing to help the millions of unpaid family carers in the UK, or those in need of care, who do not meet the ever increasingly stringent eligibility criteria for carer’s allowance, or state subsidised personal care, and disability benefits. Austerity left an estimated 1.5 million older people in the UK with unmet care needs.

So it’s easy to see why this strategy feels insincere, to say the least. Especially from a PM who reportedly was willing to ‘let the bodies pile high’, and from a party accused in 2017 of ‘gravely and systematically’ breaching disabled people’s human rights, through policy choices like cutting adult social care, community care and disability benefits in the austerity years. Policy choices that may yet be resurrected post-Covid.

Dignified, good quality care is unavoidably expensive... But even more so when it’s outsourced to the private sector and profiteered on.

Social care doesn’t have to be a culture war – make it a class war, instead. We need to push for wealth taxes to fund universal basic services such as care.

Research by the University of Warwick and the London School of Economics, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, investigated whether a wealth tax would be ‘desirable and deliverable’. They found that a one-off wealth tax of 5% on assets over 500k would raise £262 billion, affecting 8 million residents over the course of five yearly payments.

Does that sound too extreme? What if you only taxed the ultra rich? The Times projected that if you taxed all wealth over £100 million at 10%, £69 billion would be raised. According to the Sunday Times Rich List, the number of billionaires has jumped from 147 to a record 171 and the richest six people in the UK own more wealth than the bottom 13 million combined.

Last year the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) called for Capital Gains Tax (CGT) to be raised to the same level as Income Tax. This would effectively be a tax on profits, and is estimated to raise up to £18 billion each year.

These proposals seem more likely to raise the sums necessary to truly tackle social care and other public goods. The NI tax hike is projected to raise a mere £12 billion a year, in contrast, and from the people who can least afford it.

According to the disability charity Scope, 45% of the over 65s are disabled, but so are 19% of working age adults, amounting to a total of 1 in 5 people in the UK. 43% of children in poverty live in a family where someone is disabled. Life costs an average £583 extra a month for disabled folks.

There is potential for a huge coalition of voters whose interests are often deemed to be diametrically opposed. In fact, the ‘disabled & chronically ill’ is the only minority group you aren’t always born into – disability and chronic illness can happen to any of us.