We can only speculate what the Tory campaigns department were thinkin when they launched the now much-spoofed "R.I.P. OFF" poster. In a nutshell it demonstrates all that is wrong with David Cameron's Conservatives: naive and focused on the wrong priorities. The campaign is rooted in the fact that the Labour government is considering a charge on the estates of people after death to pay for social care. While we would obviously want to interrogate the £20,000 figure quoted, the fact that social care has to be paid for somehow is not - surely - in dispute. The Tories' policy of an £8,000 voluntary "insurance premium" would only pay for nursing care (i.e. not care in an individual's home) and is yet to be fully explained; it certainly couldn't be used to match the costs that Labour is talking about here. We are finally starting to have a serious debate in this country about the cost of elderly social care but, based on Prime Minister's Questions yesterday, it looks as if the Conservative front bench are determined to wreck it. Contrast this with the silly argument a decade ago where Tony Blair's ill advised pledge in 1997 to end the practice of people in care from being forced to sell their homes became a stick his opponents beat him with, without actually coming up with a workable policy themselves. The Lib Dems must accept their share of the blame here; their success in delivering free personal care in coalition in Scotland proved a somewhat pyrhhic victory as the costs of the scheme have increased massively in recent years. A flat fee on estates may not be the ideal solution: it would wipe out the estates of some people who didn't up needing social care while being a mere pinprick on the estate of a millionaire who did. It would presumably suffer from a lot of the same problems we see with the existing inheritance tax (passing most of the value of an estate onto children years before, etc.). But it surely ranks as a better solution than merely taking the cost out of general taxation - and thus working people's income taxes. What this boils down to is a question of where you want the burden of taxation to fall: on income or wealth? The Tories have set themselves against the latter and their history shows that while they favour lower income taxes it is always the taxes of the rich they cut first, with the sort of disastrous social consequences we are only now beginning to appreciate. The Lib Dems are now arguing for the opposite approach, although admittedly I would like to see them go further (a point echoed in Demos' recent pamplet A Wealth of Opportunity). Labour, as usual, simply can't make its mind up. Image credit: MyDavidCameron.com
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