This Coalition is at its best when it is tackling the country’s long-term structural problems. That, after all, is why we came together with the Conservatives to form a Coalition Government and deal with the record deficit that we inherited from the last Labour government. Nowhere is this more evident than in today’s historic announcement to protect people, for the first time ever, from the threat of unlimited care costs. That is why I have been pushing relentlessly for this reform since my first day in the job in September.
For anyone doubting whether this is a truly “historic” announcement, I would ask them to consider just two things. Firstly, social care isn’t free and never has been. One in ten of us will face a bill of over £100,000 for our social care. Thousands will pay even more, because there is no limit to what you could end up paying for your care, or who will pay. If you are diagnosed with cancer, then the NHS will look after you and fund your treatment. But if you are diagnosed with dementia and placed into a care home, or have other complex care needs, then it is you who picks up the bill.
Ending this cruel lottery is a problem that has stumped Conservative and Labour governments alike. Even Tony Blair’s Labour government at the height of its powers, backed by a landslide majority and spending money like it was water, kept this in the “too difficult to do” drawer. Blair famously told his party’s conference; “I don’t want them brought up in a country where the only way pensioners can get long term care is by selling their home.” Not for the first time, the rhetoric failed to live up to the reality with between thirty and forty thousand people a year having to sell their home to pay for their care.
Today’s announcement of a cap brings an end to unlimited care costs. For the first time ever, people will be able to plan for their future without that terrifying fear that they could be the ones who end up with catastrophic care costs. And sixteen years after Tony Blair’s conference promise, it is the Coalition Government that will bring an end to the scandal of thousands of people being forced to sell their home during their lifetime to pay for their care.
Equally momentous is our decision to dramatically raise the means test level from Labour’s £23,250 to £123,000. That’s a huge increase on Labour’s means-test level that will give tens of thousands of people across the country – including those that the current system lets down most – extra financial support for their social care. The current system protects the very poorest, who pay nothing – but it fails people just above the threshold, people who are not well-off but who have to meet the costs themselves, or those who have spent their entire life working hard to pay for their own home yet receive no help from the state. Under the new system, the very poorest people will continue to have their costs paid for them as they do now. But following our changes, the numbers of people entitled to a helping hand will be vastly increased thanks to the higher threshold. Those with the least will get the most support. That is a hugely progressive measure.
The cap is not a panacea and £75,000 is not a small amount of money. We owe it to the British public to introduce a system that is both affordable and sustainable. We won’t gamble with the nation’s finances in the same way that Labour did. But neither will we leave this problem in the “too difficult to do” drawer.
I am incredibly proud that it is the Liberal Democrats who have delivered on Dilnot. Everyone will get the reassurance that getting the long-term care and support they need does not have to mean financial ruin. Our new measures will give people peace of mind that they will get the care they need, regardless of their wealth; that they will get a helping hand if they need it; and that they and their home will be protected from unlimited, potentially catastrophic, costs.
* Norman Lamb is MP for North Norfolk and was Liberal Democrat Minister of State at the Department of Health until May 2015