June 19th, 2012

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Dilnot? Why not?

An odd discussion of the Dilnot proposals on the Today programme this morning (the clip is 1:35 in).

They analyse the problem well enough. There's certainly a problem with the cost of social care, at least from the point of view of the property-owning classes. The children of people who have the decency to pop off relatively quickly after a life of independence will find their inheritances more or less intact. Those whose parents need long term care may find very little left in the pot by the end. (Those whose parents didn't have much to begin with won't get anything either, but they will at least avoid disappointment.)

Dilnot's proposal is to put a cap of £35,000 on the money paid by each person towards their own care before the state steps in to pick up the tab, which would apparently cost the treasury about £2 billion per year. At a time of widespread public sector spending cuts, is it fair to ask those in most need to give up vital services in order to protect the legacies of well-off baby boomers? Strangely (strange at least from the government that made cutting income tax for millionaires a big priority at the last budget), the answer seems to be no.

Now, this is the really odd bit. According to the BBC pundit, in looking for ways to make this move palatable, they tried to think of ways of raising the money from the very class of people who would benefit from the Dilnot plans, and accordingly they considered means-testing winter fuel payments, the state pension, and subsidized TV licences. In other words, they looked at taking money from the well-off elderly.

But hang on! The main beneficiaries of Dilnot wouldn't be the elderly! They'd be their middle-aged, middle-class baby-boomer children, who would (as a result of the Dilnot cap) be able to rely on receiving at least the biggest part of their inheritance. So why isn't the government looking at ways to take the money from them, if they want this whole exercise to be revenue-neutral? (Better still, of course, to tax the extremely rich fairly. but they aren't going to do that.)

One idea might be to scrap higher rate tax relief on pension contributions. Admittedly, I myself would lose by that measure. But then, I'm also one of the potential beneficiaries of Dilnot.
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Double Euro-vision

Is anyone else suffering from double Eurovision?

In one version of Europe, Spain and Portgual are bankrupt, Greece is a basket-case, and Italy is dealing with huge amounts of debt. But switch from the Euro to the Euros, and all is utterly changed, especially in the south: Portugal and Italy are formidable nations, Spain bestrides the world, and Greece overthrows Russia. In northern Europe, the changes are smaller: Germany is a power to be reckoned with in both versions, as is France (but rather less so); Holland is a decent but not a major nation; and England's position is, we might say, ambiguous.

Changing from one Europe to the other is usually instantaneous, a kind of cultural code-switching - just as we can happily use the word "Gift" to mean either "present" or "poison". It's a bit like switching between the present and the sixteenth century, where suddenly it seems natural to think of "Spain" as denoting the richest and most powerful country again. But these transpositions leave a kind of Derridean trace, a faintly dissonant (but salutary) reminder of the ultimately contingent nature of things.

In other news, I note that Greece's decision to stay in the Euro was widely reported to have prompted "sighs of relief" across the continent. However, I could have sworn I heard a cry of "Shit!", coming from the general direction of Berlin.