What’s wrong with the ‘death tax’?

It is shameful that care for the elderly has become a political football, says Joan Bakewell, the government’s ageism tsar, in The Daily Telegraph. Last year, discussion of this pressing and serious issue was “measured and concerned”. Then, last week, as the Personal Care at Home Bill went through the Lords, the Tories brought out an emotive and widely condemned poster. It described Labour’s proposed levy – a flat tax of £20,000 on every estate, or a levy equivalent to 10% of every estate – as a ‘death tax’.

The opposition aren’t the only guilty ones, says Sam Lister in The Times. The bill – which promises free care at home for up to 280,000 people with the highest needs – was “sprung on Parliament and the public” half-way through consultations over development of a “major legislative programme on long-term care”. Opponents have accused Gordon Brown of introducing the bill as “a ‘back of the envelope’ piece of electioneering”. Indeed, last week more than 75 councillors wrote an open letter saying that they had ‘major doubts’ about it. You can’t blame people for being cynical, says The Daily Telegraph. We’ve known Britain faces a demographic crisis for more than 20 years. Tony Blair insisted that he did not want pensioners to have to sell their homes to fund long-term care back in 1997, but then did nothing about it. “Ahead of next month’s White Paper, there are two certainties; that the system for care of the elderly needs to be overhauled, and that any remotely adequate scheme will cost a titanic amount.”

At the moment those with assets of more than £23,000 must contribute to the cost of their care: 48,000 pensioners have had to sell their homes to do so. As The Daily Telegraph’s Emma Simon reminds us, at £35,000 a year, having a relative in an average nursing home costs more than sending a child to Eton. And it is estimated that the cost of caring for an ageing population will reach an extra £6bn by 2030.

So what are the funding options? asks Mary Dejevsky in The Independent. Labour has proposed the so-called ‘death tax’. The Tories have proposed a one-off insurance premium of £8,000, “though it has been argued that this is nothing like enough”. The Liberal Democrats have “mooted publicly funded personal accounts, based on need”.

Overall, the ‘death tax’ would be the “most socially just and economically efficient way of funding care for the elderly”, says Peter Wilby in The Guardian. After all, no one knows what care they will need in old age, so surely a tax after death would be “infinitely preferable to the possibility of a near-100% charge if you are unlucky enough to need years of expensive care”? Given the money has to come from somewhere, “a levy on the estates of the deceased is the most just and humane solution”.

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