A man for all seasons

This morning Radio Wales asked me to be up before six to be interviewed about the proposals in a report, Delivering Dilnot, edited by Paul Burstow MP. (My wife’s reaction to being woken at 5.45 this morning: “For Wales?”) Part of the proposal is to implement the Dilnot recommendations in England, limiting the amount that any person will have to pay for social care and increasing exemptions for capital on the means tests. (Scotland has ‘free personal care’, but the system is far from perfect. It has been shackled to a complex, selective process where needs are closely specified and nothing is delivered without prior assessment. In common with many other selective systems, that leads to confusion, complexity and inexorable increases in the budget.)

The report argues that the Dilnot proposals can largely be paid for by removing Winter Fuel Payment except for claimants of Pension Credit. The Conservatives have pledged to maintain WFP, but it has long been identified as a prime candidate for cuts. Pension Credit has many of the usual problems of means-tested benefits – complexity, low takeup (a third of those eligible don’t get it) and errors in calculation. The main justification for doing this seems to be that people don’t like better-off pensioners getting WFP. This seems to me a very weak argument – the same case could be used to reduce the state pension. If we’re not happy that a few older people have very large personal incomes, we can tax them on those incomes without complicating the pensions system for the rest of the population.

If the policy in Burstow’s report was to be implemented, it would imply a transfer of resources from most pensioners to the children of better off pensioners, who would inherit more. There’s no good reason, however, to suppose that this redistribution is what would happen – if government wants to implement Dilnot, it can afford it, and if it is trying to raise money, it is likely to cut WFP regardless. The two policies seem to me quite separate.

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