The question of who should pay for social care is a pressing one; successive governments have grappled with the issue and none have found a concrete solution. At the moment, some people who don’t qualify for local council funded care have to sell their homes to cover the costs, which can exceed £1,500 a week.
Last year, in his first speech as Prime Minister, Johnson outlined the need for a reform of the current system and back in March, the government launched a parliamentary inquiry into the shortage of care available on the NHS. Since then, the large number of coronavirus deaths in care homes across the country has kept the issue firmly in the spotlight.
Ministers in Boris Jonhnson’s health and social care taskforce are currently studying a scheme where everyone over 40 would start contributing towards the cost of care in later life. Over 40s would have to pay more in tax or national insurance, or be obliged to insure themselves against hefty care bills.
Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, is a keen advocate of the plan and is committed to coming up with a solution.
The system that ministers are considering draws on pre-existing models for funding social care in Japan and Germany. Both systems have drawn admiration as sustainable ways of solving the challenges that an ageing population brings.
Under the German system, everyone starts contributing to the scheme when they start working, and employers match their contributions, similar to workplace pension schemes in the UK. At the moment, 1.5% of each person’s salary, plus a 1.5% employer contribution, are ring fenced for social care in later life.
Elderly Germans can use this money to pay carers to help them at home or use them for care home fees. They can even give them to relatives and friends for helping to look after them.
The Japanese scheme is similar, but people only start contributing when they are 40.
At the moment, nothing has been confirmed. Officials are still looking into the exact mechanism by which over 40s would pay. However, social care experts have cautioned that an insurance model would have to be compulsory to ensure people paid.
The scheme under consideration has found favour with campaigners. Caroline Abrahams, the charity director at Age UK, said the scheme “may be rather a good deal, since that system offers a level of provision and reassurance that we can only dream of here at the moment.” She added that the scheme would “arguably [be] an appropriate act of national atonement after the catastrophic loss of life we’ve seen in care homes during the pandemic”.
It will be interesting to see how the government eventually decides to finance its scheme. Watch this space.