Your Home Or Your Life

I’m incredibly fortunate to own my home. I know that for many people the current crisis in housing makes this impossible, and is likely to do so for future generations. I watch people I care about being held hostage to increasing rents, being made homeless at a moment’s notice, and being priced out of their communities.

The castle, despite its grand name, is a two bedroom flat in London, the city in which I was born and have always called home. My castle doesn’t have turrets but it does have what I need to live a safe and independent life with Tourettes – level access for my wheelchair, a room for my overnight support worker, and a strong network of friends and family nearby.

As a disabled person in need of 24-hour support my independence is precarious in so many ways, but the castle gives me a sense of security and safety that I value deeply. Whatever happens I have a home.

Or at least that’s what I thought.

Yesterday on my way back from work I heard on the news about Teresa May’s Manifesto pledge on social care. Panic twisted in my stomach, and I felt the tears in my eyes even before the reporter had finished their sentence.

When I’m at work the care I need to keep me safe is covered by Access to Work but at all other times I rely on local-authority-funded social care.

To me, social care means being able to wash in the morning, eat safely, go out, and contribute to my community. It means I have the support I need to sleep. It means that when my tics intensify, someone’s there to stop me rubbing my skin raw on the floor or to turn me over and prevent me from suffocating.

Teresa May wants to scrap limits on the amount people can be expected to contribute to their care in their lifetimes, (which was set by David Cameron at £72,000). This means there would be no limit to the amount someone has to contribute. The longer you need care and the more complex it is, the more you’ll have to fork out in your lifetime.

Even more crucially she’s decided that the value of a person’s home should be included in the assessment of their ability to pay for their care. Currently if you have savings of under £14,250, not including the home you live in, then your local authority meets the cost of your support.

May says she’ll raise this threshold to £100,000 but this will include the value of a person’s home and will be applicable both to people who receive care in their own homes and to people living in residential care (properties are already taken into account if you don’t live in them).

While much of the reporting has focused on elderly care and its impact on older people, from what I can see this policy is also likely to have a severe impact on younger disabled people, and further embed our widening financial inequality.

From what I understand, under Teresa May’s proposed system, the market value of the castle would mean I’d be deemed to have assets of over £100,000. I’d need to then choose between meeting the full costs of my care myself, which are substantially more than I earn, or agreeing to hand over the castle to the local authority when I die so it can be sold to recoup the cost of my care.

The other option presumably would be to take my chances and not receive any support at all. But what would happen if I refused support and was therefore at serious risk of neglect, injury or death? Would the local authority have the power to force me to accept their care?

This proposal contains deep, cynical, inbuilt inequality. Disabled people would face further financial burdens and constraints that non-disabled people don’t have to consider. It’s basically a tax on people who need care for longer, or who have more complex and costly care requirements.

It’s worth remembering that much of the care sector is privatised so that the money from my home would be boosting the profits of private companies rather than going back into the public system. For example, the care agency commissioned by my local authority that provides some of my care charges double what it pays the workers who provide it. In 2014 this company made a total profit of £49 million pounds.

Under May’s proposed system, disabled people would never be able to save for equipment they need, for a holiday, a wedding, for university fees, or be able to pass anything on to their children. Any savings they accumulated would also be instantly viewed as assets and therefore would also need to go towards the cost of their support.

This proposal looks particularly bleak for disabled people when you look at what’s already happening within social care and NHS decision-making. At the start of this year the Guardian reported that Clinical Commissioning Groups were introducing rules that would force many disabled people into care homes, rather than living independently in the community, on the grounds that it’s cheaper.

Surely May’s proposals would further incentivise this ‘warehousing’ of disabled people – not only is it cheaper, she might argue, but we can unlock the value of their property too.

Including the cost of a person’s home will also instantly create a postcode lottery because property values vary so widely from area to area. There are some parts of the country where flats like mine are still well under the £100,000 threshold.

I’m aware that home ownership is a privilege, and I certainly want to see policies that help equalise this by addressing unchecked rent increases, preventing more luxury developments for foreign investors, and dealing with the extreme shortage of social housing and accessible accommodation.

The social care crisis also needs urgent attention, but the answer doesn’t lie in stripping old, sick and disabled people of their assets and handing these over to private companies. We need a joined-up, fair and compassionate system that recognises the value of investing in people rather than in faceless corporate care providers.

In the last week alone Teresa May has demonstrated a startling lack of knowledge about the true meaning and impact of her party’s policies, as this exchange with Kathy, a learning-disabled woman from Oxfordshire, reveals.

Her manifesto policies for social care further reveal her contempt and lack of understanding. They’ll impact heavily on older people but are also likely to rob many younger disabled people of any chance of independence and financial autonomy.

Surely in a just society, the tax people pay shouldn’t be based on how soon they’re expecting to die?

Some people may choose to dismiss social care as an issue that doesn’t affect them. If anyone isn’t made tense and tearful by this manifesto it’s probably because their life and safety isn’t yet dependent on our social care system, but disability, like ill health, can affect anybody at any time. As a society we need a fair health and social care system that supports people as their circumstances change.

The social care system is part of our safety net. I’m very happy to contribute to a fair system that keeps people safe, but May’s proposals are far from that. They’re full of assumptions about who needs social care and about the productivity and usefulness of disabled and older people. They don’t offer a solution to the social care crisis – they’re just a poorly thought through collection of sticking plasters to be paid for by vulnerable people.

Now that both the Conservative and Labour manifestos have been presented, the choice on June 8th is startlingly clear.

If you’re ever likely to be disabled, old, ill, need a job, have a child, travel, drink water (or if you identify as a fox) – vote Labour.

If you want to be worked into the ground your whole life and then give everything you’ve ever managed to save to a profit-making care company when you get older – vote Conservative.

I know what choice I’m going to be making.

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