If it weren’t such a shock to everything else that’s gone wrong with this administration, the news that Boris Johnson’s government could force thousands of people to lose their homes would be dismissed as a relatively minor setback.
A plan to cut social care to prevent paying for sick friends and relatives to live in expensive nursing homes is just another headache for the government to manage and even to undo. It’s not even a new idea, but only a recent infusion of money that the government forgot to fund or didn’t include in its cost estimates.
Forcing people to live in their own homes until they die is one thing, but to do it while forcing those people to pay for it costs considerably more to care for than nursing homes. In 2017, it costs the average of £76,600 ($100,220) to care for the same person in a nursing home, while the average social care package costs around £48,000.
“Theresa May is being ruthless in her attempts to reduce the amount of money the taxpayer pays on his or her behalf for helping older people,” Social Affairs Minister Justine Greening said last week, as The Guardian reports.
After London mayor Boris Johnson asked his financial adviser to look into ways to cut spending on social care, the government allowed him to form a panel to consider the ideas.
When Johnson met with the panel in July, he wanted social care to be included in his own commission that will create an action plan for the local authority finance board to cut spending on local services. One member of the panel, “very reluctantly,” is facing the prospect of being told to stop her husband’s social care bill — even though, according to Greening, this would be a breach of the government’s fiduciary duty to his health.
Johnson’s social care plan is not the plan that is being pushed by the government. Even if Johnson’s commission can produce its action plan to cut spending on local services, the funding will have to come from another source — the other part of the question still being asked by the Financial Times, “Is there enough money in the pot?”
The British government has delayed the release of its budget and economic forecasts for January. The budget, which determines how much money the government can spend, is just weeks away, and there is little but a weak pound to suggest that taxes will increase.
It’s not clear that there will be any new money for either social care or the budget. The decision to cut social care was designed by Johnson, an ambitious young man who often wants to do his own thing, and by the chancellor of the exchequer, Philip Hammond, a skilled politician who always wants to stick it to the opposition.
May had hoped that leaving the European Union would allow the government to spend its money on areas other than the welfare state.
The government first floated the idea of a cut to social care after the Brexit vote, according to The Times. Last year, May delayed taking a call from Johnson, her main rival for the leadership of the Conservative Party, to discuss her plans for social care. Instead, she went to a Scottish Conservative conference where she delayed the publication of her social care plans for several weeks.
The issue didn’t seem particularly high on the agenda until Brexit. After that, the prime minister and her cabinet began to consider social care in terms of leaving the EU and their talks with other EU leaders. For their part, British Labour and the Scottish National Party have been pushing the government to address problems in the care system and to improve the funding of social care.
The decision to leave the EU came at a time when Brexit negotiations were “dynamic and changing all the time,” Greening told The Guardian. In an article for The Guardian in October, Greening said that no plan was immune from that possibility, and that the government would “have to consider all options.”