Instead of the usual, nothing much to report, events in the UK are moving quite speedily in this fair land.
Indeed, quite a lot has been happening. And, first of all, I want to say that regarding the tragedy in Manchester, I commend you to read George Monbiot’s recent article, which asks us to not let the actions of a suicidal killer taint your view of humanity. Let us focus in on the wonderful first responders and the people of Manchester, many of whom rushed to the scene to offer help. We are not populated by psychopathic murderers (I don’t give them the credence they want by calling them anything else) because people, on the whole, are mainly altruistic and full of empathy. We stand with the victims, and we hail the professionals who cared for those who were injured or died. However, I’m just going to say something. Actually, bombs like this go off all the time in Syria and Iraq; and often it’s the women and children who are targeted, especially when they’re shopping for food in market places. I trust we stand in solidarity against all unnecessary dreadful murders. Also, I’m not entirely happy with the relentless publicity on television and in the newspapers. Because above all, we do not give them the oxygen of publicity, we should not be blinded by fear, we do not change our behaviours, instead we quietly salute the people of Manchester, and we acknowledge and celebrate our humanity and carry on as normal.
There was a halt to any electioneering, which is why I didn’t publish this post earlier. But today (Thursday) there was a minute’s silence at 11.0am, so now – a situation report.
OK, earlier this month May took tea with the Queen and Parliament was dissolved. For those of you outside the UK, this had to happen because an election has been called earlier than the mandatory 5 years. So, off the PM goes to the Palace – for tea. One could say, how quaint, if it wasn’t the most important election this century, and going back a few of the last century as well.
Btw, that speech, which I noted in my last post. On reflection, I beg to differ with her view that the main reason for the election is that that while the country has come together over Brexit Parliament is divided. Oh, no. No way. It is the country that is divided (remember the 48%) and Parliament is a homogenous supine pup that’s rolled over and submitted to May’s bullying tactics.
Back to the election. People were apparently bored with the very idea of it, said one journalist earlier this month. But we shouldn’t be. And now I think we aren’t. Why? Because the party manifestos have been published, and there have been some interesting reactions to them, and some rapid backward moves (by the Tories, in fact). And while memories are short (more about this in a moment) this back-tracking is really not what you might have expected at the beginning of the month when opinion polls and the local elections predicted a massive win for Theresa May.
Yes, I think it fair to say that May called the election because she thought she would win with a humungous land-slide.
Actually, late last week, the Conservative lead over Labour fell by six points. The Tories still had a 13-point lead with a 46% share of the vote. But Labour increased its share to 33% with the Lib Dems coming in at 8% and UKIP at 5%. However, if leadership is more important than the party you vote for, then this is where May wins over Corbyn through getting 45% approval, while only 22% say Corbyn would make a good Prime Minister.
These polls were taken before the Tory manifesto came out and the Tory manifesto has proved problematic for Theresa May. Amongst other policies the manifesto includes:
- The building of many more homes (good)
- The ending of free school lunches for all primary school children (not good)
- Reduction of migration to tens of thousands (I will get back to this in another post)
- Ending of the pensions ‘triple lock’ (which is a guarantee that the basic state pension will rise by a minimum of either 2.5%, the rate of inflation or average earnings growth, whichever is largest).
- Changes to the way social care is paid for
And while that policy on breaking the triple lock is not exactly going to appeal to May’s usual constituency of voters (the older voter) crucially, the last policy suggestion has caused a bit of a rumpus.
At first, some parts of the media thought – what a good thing. Because, all medical care in the UK is paid for by the government through our taxes and is free at the point of access. Whatever condition you have you will never, ever, have to worry about paying for it. But, if you need what is called social care (primarily, help in the home because you are ill, have a disability or are frail) you do pay, as in, it’s means tested. The current system is that only when all your savings drop to below £23,000 will the state step in (there is an amount you still pay between the £23,000 and a lower amount of £17,000, that I won’t got into now, as it’s too complicated for my brain to take in).
But critically your house was not considered to be part of your assets and/or savings. So, you’re in your own home, your savings drop below £23,000 and the state will step up to the plate.
The new system according to the Tory manifesto, will be that the state will allow you £100,000 of your savings and assets. So instead of running your assets down to £23,000 you’re quids in with having £100,000 in your pocket. Wow! And indeed, I saw one well-known newspaper of the right with the headline ‘You won’t have to sell your house for care!’ Well, sadly, that’s not quite correct. Because your assets will now include your house. Think about it. There you are, vulnerable, old and frail and in need of care, and you’ve run out of any savings, but you’re living in a house worth £350,000. What do you do? Sell the roof? The walls? The fireplace? The mantelpiece? Can’t be done.
So, you will be left with two options, the details of which were a trifle scanty in that manifesto, to say the least. One option is that the Local Authority will take a charge on your house and pay for your care and recover that money out of your estate. But one tiny thing here. Local Authorities DON’T HAVE ANY MONEY. And think about the bureaucracy that would be needed. Because this would be like a reverse mortgage, which the LA would have to keep accounts for months, years, and depending on how long you live with your disability, even decades. That won’t work.
The other option is equity release, which is an exceedingly dodgy method to raise money, mainly because I believe compound interest comes into it, with the result that the value of your house never keeps up with your debt, and eventually your house will be worth nothing, and belong to the equity company not your children and other beneficiaries.
This realisation, that equity release was probably the only option for people in need of social care, took a couple of days to sink in. The press and social media began to mutter and as a result, on Monday, there were some frantic efforts to rectify the unpopularity around this policy. So, May announced in a speech that nothing had changed (repeating this many times). And, indeed, that was true as the inclusion of your house in the calculation of your assets remained. But what she now wanted was a ‘cap’. Which hadn’t been mentioned at all in the manifesto.
A ‘cap’ is the agreed amount that the state thinks everyone should pay for their care. We don’t know what level it might be set at as this is going to be consulted upon. But if it’s say, £72,000 (and there was a suggestion earlier that it should be that figure) then if your assets, including your house, are above that you pay in full until your assets are either below £100k or your care has cost £72,000 gross, whichever comes first. At this point I want to give up the will to live. But think about dealing with all of this when you’re frail.
This is not a popular policy and it’s now named in the press as ‘the dementia tax’. Because, if you’re fit and well throughout your life and just don’t wake up one morning your house will be left, as per your will, to your beneficiaries. So, the logic goes, it is a tax on ill-health in your old age.
Remember Gordon Brown? He had a very similar idea and that was known as ‘the death tax’.
In fact, I want to turn now to the Labour Party manifesto which, unlike the Tory manifesto, is actually costed.
This manifesto includes:
- Major nationalisation programmes, especially railways, energy and water (I think most people these days are pretty sick of private rail companies so I’m saying this is good)
- Hiring 10,000 new police officers and 3,000 new firefighters (I believe this is costed – so all good)
- Those on more than £80,000 a year will pay more tax (excellent)
- Abolish tuition fees (gosh)
- Boost the NHS annual finding and ring fence mental health budgets (well, each and every one of us wants that!)
We have short memories. Once upon a time, political parties accepted that there was a social contract within which the people of this country would live and be protected from adversity. Do you remember the Conservatives competing with Labour to build council housing? And it was kind of the norm to think that this social welfare would be paid by our taxes. But that all changed with Thatcher’s take that there’s ‘no such thing as society’. Privatisation of just about everything was a very good thing. And there seems to be not just a collective amnesia but a collective submission to the idea that private companies can deliver just exactly what they want and very badly too. Southern Rail, anyone? Arguments that there is a level beneath which no-one should fall seem to have gone forever, as not just the poor but the disabled are demonised and their benefits cut to the bone.
Corbyn and the Labour Party has come under a huge amount of criticism, not the least from me. He’s not perfect, he has made many mistakes and his leadership skills are poor. Furthermore, his take on Brexit is weak. But there is something here that is important. Under his leadership, he has reintroduced the idea of the country having decent public services and a programme for tackling inequality. He is looking to support working people. This is different. Labour in the past turned away from ordinary working people in favour of the centre, the swing voter, the middle-of-the-road person who gets a fright at the very idea of socialism. This is, as the Guardian has said, a big break with the recent past. Finally, in my view, we have an opposition.
The most interesting thing to result from the publication of these manifestos is that the Conservative lead over Labour continues to drop. From polls that were taken last week the Tories are now down to 43% and Labour is up to 34%
It still seems likely that May will win. This is the most likely outcome, but the number of seats won by the Tories is critical. Because with a large majority she will have her mandate. Then not only will we have a very hard Brexit indeed, as May seems to have lost all sense of caution and any sense of what diplomacy is, and thinks nothing of upsetting the EU negotiators big-time, we will, in addition, lose what little of our post-war welfare state and our public services we have left to the private sector. The harassment of our work-force will continue and life will be very much poorer for us all. And by that I don’t mean simply poorer in a monetary sense, although that is happening and will continue, but it’s our moral stance, our sense of who we are, and where we stand in society here and abroad, that will be a poorer thing.
But actually, as things stand, Labour is not quite the lost cause it was. It will, I predict, increase its vote, and maybe, just maybe, we have an opposition that stands for something. Good.
Penny Kocher, Thursday 25th May 2017