Rehman Chisti: A staggering 180,000 people go missing each year, and the recovery must help them

25 May

Rehman Chishti MP is the Member of Parliament for Gillingham and Rainham and Chair of the APPG on Missing Children and Adults, as well as a former Member of the Home Affairs Select Committee (2017-2019).

As we look to build back better following Covid-19, our focus must shift and widen to cover issues that have until now not been properly addressed.

Before the pandemic, a staggering 180,000 people went missing from their families and friends every year – many of them repeatedly.

With the pandemic increasing the number of people dealing with issues around mental health, facing serious financial challenges, or suffering from domestic abuse, the scale of the issue is likely to increase still further in the coming months and years.

I was personally absolutely astounded by this figure when I was preparing to ask the Secretary of State for Health a Question on the Government’s missing people and mental health strategy following the case of one of my constituents going missing in August 2020.

The national definition of a missing person is “anyone whose whereabouts cannot be established and where the circumstances are out of character or the context suggests the person may be subject of crime or risk of harm to themselves or another”. As the Chair of the APPG on Missing People I welcomed the Government’s announcements in the Queen’s Speech to bring forward measures on mental health, the commitment to ensure children have the best possible start in life, and the promise to do more to address sexual exploitation and violence against women and girls.

However, I believe these measures must only be the first step on the road to a joined-up strategy to tackle the issue of missing people, which affects all 650 constituencies from around the United Kingdom.

Challenge 1: Many people go missing more than once

For too many people, going missing is not a one-time occurrence: the 180,000 people who are reported missing every year actually make up more than 350,000 separate missing incidents. This means that thousands of children and adults are going missing more than once, some many more times.

People going missing repeatedly means that we are not effectively safeguarding them. Going missing is a warning sign that something is wrong in a person’s life. They may be being exploited, escaping harm, experiencing mental health crisis, or facing other significant risks. Some will be seriously harmed while away.

Every time someone goes missing there is an opportunity for intervention. We should be providing help to address underlying issues and opportunities for escalated support when necessary.

Challenge 2: Looked after children are more at risk

One group is at risk of going missing more than almost any other. One in ten children looked after in the care system will go missing, compared to one in 200 generally. In 2019-20 over 12,000 looked after children were reported missing. They are also more likely to go missing repeatedly, on average each child will go missing more than six times.

Evidence suggests that looked after children can be at increased risk of many of the harms known to be linked with going missing.

We must do better for these young people. Providing safe and supportive homes, with appropriate care in place to meet the needs of their individual circumstances. All agencies involved – carers, residential homes, social workers, police officers, schools and many others – should be focussed on building positive relationships and preventing harm.

Challenge 3: Adults with mental health issues are disproportionately likely to go missing

Amongst adults, too, there are certain factors that make it far more likely that someone will go missing: up to 80 per cent of missing adults will be experiencing severe mental health issues when they go missing. Yet the issue is often overlooked in national and local policies and action plans regarding mental health.

With the Covid-19 pandemic having a further severe negative impact on the nation’s mental health, with increased isolation and decreased access to support, this is likely to become a still more urgent problem in the coming months and years.

Challenge 4: Missing children are at risk of sexual and criminal exploitation

Children going missing can be a serious warning sign that they are being groomed, or exploited, including by criminal groups. With thousands of children across the UK being victimised in this way, this is a problem that needs to be recognised and faced urgently.

We now know that a shocking number of children are being exploited criminally by criminal groups to deliver drugs across the country in ‘County Lines’. With many children less visible to services dedicated to identifying and helping them during the Covid-19 pandemic, these problems have not diminished.

Instead, exploitation has often only temporarily shifted from travel (county lines) to taking place locally or over the internet.

Challenge 5: Long-term missing people

The last challenge comes from perhaps the most heart-rending fact of all: not all missing people come back. The data shows that over 5,000 people are currently considered to be ‘long-term missing’ in the UK, meaning they have been missing for over a year. Over 5,000 families are left in limbo, waiting to hear what may have happened to their missing loved one.

This is an unimaginable situation that no one would wish to be left in. Every missing episode should be a priority for all of us, from day one and for as long as it takes until they are found.

What can be done to tackle these challenges? There are three distinct opportunities for change that the Government, I believe, should look into at the earliest possible opportunity.

Recommendation 1: New Missing Children and Adults Strategy

First and foremost, what is needed is an overarching plan across Government, spanning across departments, to address the issue of missing children and adults.

The reasons why people go missing are complex, the harm that they may experience while away is varied and the support that people will need is unique to their individual circumstances. Missing people truly is an intersecting issue and requires a multi-agency response.

There are excellent examples of multi-agency working across the country, but the Government must take a strong national lead. In 2011 the Home Office published the ‘Missing Children and Adults Strategy’. Ten years later this needs to be reviewed, updated and strengthened with Cross-Government commitments to prioritising the response to missing within all the relevant agencies.

Recommendation 2: Out of area placements/care review

The second issue that must be looked at is children’s care, particularly with regards to out of area placements. With the Independent Review on Children’s Social Care having just been launched, we must not let this opportunity pass to seriously address the issue of provision and sufficiency of placements where children need them, as well as to review how decisions are made about children being placed out of area.

With 12,000 looked after children currently going missing every year, tackling this issue would go a long way towards reducing the number of children going missing and all the harm that follows from that.

Recommendation 3: The issue of missing people being built into mental health priorities

The renewed focus on mental health announced in the Queen’s Speech is very welcome, especially as I have previously strongly campaigned on this issue, including by introducing two private members’ bills to Parliament in the past. I believe that this focus must include detailed consideration of the issue of missing people.

Currently there is almost no guidance or legislation that outlines the support that should be in place for people who go missing in mental health crisis, or for those who go missing directly from mental health care settings.

By building consideration of missing people into mental health policies and practice we would be supporting early intervention in cases where going missing is an early sign of worsening mental health; right through to preventing deaths, amongst those missing people who have gone missing with the intention of taking their own life.

The issue of children and adults going missing deeply affects hundreds of thousands of people a year, across every constituency, every local authority, every city and town in the country: it devastates families, confounds communities, and causes serious harm to those who go missing themselves. The Government must do everything it can to stem this tragic phenomenon.

Elliot Colburn MP: Disabled children and families have been hit hard by Covid. Now they must get the support they need.

13 May

Elliot Colburn is MP for Carshalton and Wallington.

Disabled children and their families have disproportionately felt the sting of the pandemic and its inevitable restrictions. The strain of the crisis on the NHS and care systems, and the closure of schools multiple times, has meant that many families have seen reductions in support services and health appointments.

I want to thank the Government for the work they have done to try and mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the lives of disabled children, particularly the laser-like focus of Vicky Ford, whose dedication to helping the most vulnerable children get through and recover from this pandemic I have seen first-hand.

Nevertheless, as a member of the Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee, our inquiry into Unequal impact? Coronavirus, disability and access to services had some very stark findings, and the Disabled Children’s Partnership (DCP) – a coalition of over 80 charities that I have been working closely with – has been surveying a demographically representative pool of over 1,200 parents of disabled children. The results have been startling.

From a report earlier in the year, the DCP estimates that over 75 per cent of parents reported delays to routine health appointments during the pandemic. These vital check-ups – such as MRI scans and Orthopaedic assessments – can help identify where important medical interventions are needed, such as physiotherapy or surgery. These interventions are often vital to help manage a child’s condition. Sadly, as these appointments have been delayed due to the strains of the pandemic, over half of parents say their child’s condition has got worse.

This is deeply concerning. Many families have been working hard for years to help their child live and manage their conditions, but much of this progress has been lost.

In my own borough, for example, I have been working with organisations like the Sutton EHCP Crisis Group, founded by parent champion Hayley Harding, to fight the severely unfair system we had in our area, with a Liberal Democrat-run Council exposed in a BBC Panorama special on special educational needs provision for their disastrous and shameful treatment of local families. This is something I have had to raise in the House a number of times, including during Prime Minister’s Questions.

Not a week goes by that a parent doesn’t come to my surgery looking for help with getting an EHCP for their child, and the pandemic has only exacerbated their struggles.

Unfortunately, this damage has not been limited to physical health. Additional research from the DCP also found that disabled children and their families are more socially isolated than the rest of the population. As has been highlighted in The Sun and Metro, many disabled children have been unable to use technologies like Zoom to speak to friends and family – meaning they have missed out on vital social connections that many of us have taken for granted.

As face-to-face support has had to be reduced due to the pandemic, parents have had to become full-time specialist teachers and carers during the pandemic, leaving little time for socialising. The DCP’s research found that 60 per cent of parents are socially isolated with 80 per cent of them qualifying for NHS psychological support in normal times, due to the levels of anxiety and possible depression they’re experiencing.

Undoubtedly, children across the country – disabled or not – have missed many opportunities for educational and social development over the past year. The Government’s response to this unprecedented situation has been admirable, with the education recovery package for children and young people totalling at £700 million. It is good to see that this package will help target disadvantaged children specifically, including the expansion of one-to-one and small group tutoring programmes.

However, I note that this package is ring-fenced for disabled children and their families. Faced with a flurry of competing demands, we need guarantees that this money will be allocated to disabled children when school leadership teams are making budgetary decisions. In addition, a large number of the services that disabled children need – e.g. speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, educational psychology and physiotherapy – are not the sole responsibility of schools, and will often be provided and funded by the local authority or health service, and are therefore out of the scope of the premium funding. The concern here is about the spending priorities of local government, which as can be seen in the case of Sutton, does not always reflect the needs of disabled children.

Likewise – on mental health – it is brilliant to see the Government taking a proactive approach in providing £79 million for millions of children and young people. But again, it is not clear that any of this funding has been specifically allocated to meet the complex needs of disabled children and families.

As we come out of lockdown and catch-up policies are implemented, the Government must ensure that those that have been hit hardest by the pandemic the support they require. We need specific, ring-fenced funding for disabled children and families – as we on the Women and Equalities committee have been calling for.

This should be a part of a holistic Covid-19 recovery plan for disabled children and families that addresses the disproportionate impact they have experienced – as disability campaigners have been pushing for through the DCP. An additional therapies plan could help children with cerebral palsy fight muscle degeneration. Extra respite care could help combat a mental health crisis in parent carers. Activities to combat social isolation could help disabled children recover vital life skills that they have fallen back on, like communicating with others.

The Conservative Party has a proud track record of supporting children. We can’t let disabled children fall out of the conversation when they need it most.

Ryan Bourne: How Government is making childcare more expensive

11 May

Ryan Bourne is Chair in Public Understanding of Economics at the Cato Institute.

Childcare is a hot topic again. Boris Johnson allegedly sought donations to finance a nanny to care for his son. In the U.S., Joe Biden plans to cap how much low and middle income families spend on childcare as a percentage of income, with the federal government covering the rest and funding pre-school for three and four year olds. All this, we are told out here Stateside, will reduce costs for parents, help child development, and facilitate mothers returning to work.

Which is funny, because we heard similar claims in the UK, where there is already up to 30 hours of government-funded care for three and four year olds, as well as subsidised care for disadvantanged two year olds. That’s in addition to Sure Start centres in places, “tax-free childcare”, support for school-based after-school care, and childcare cost relief through Universal Credit.

And yet Johnson’s worries about childcare costs sparked much hand-wringing anyway, with high prices variously described as a “devastating tax on motherhood” or evidence of long-neglected “social infrastructure.” The consensus takeaway, as ever, is that high prices necessitate yet more government support.

Come on, guys. Is anyone actually thinking in a joined-up way about the impacts of this snowballing state takeover of childcare? Subsidies don’t make something inherently cheaper. At best, they change who pays for it, while driving up prices for those ineligible for the programmes through pumping up demand. Far from the lack of state intervention being the problem, it’s obvious that government policies are driving up costs and eliminating options for parents.

A free society should produce a wide array of childcare options, with everything from parental and grandparent-provided informal care, right the way through to round-the-clock pre-school, if that is what parents want.

Yet governments have sought to professionalise and formalise the sector through heavy regulation, constraining supply, while then subsidising demand. This has brought a whole host of dissatisfaction, as well as rising market prices.

Yes, childcare is a labor-intensive, personalised service entailing the care of something parents value highly. As we become richer, we tend to spend more on higher quality services. Wealthier families, in particular, like the idea of care not just being about minding children, but as a form of early education. That sort of “quality” costs money. But present government policies push towards entrenching these preferences for everyone, stamping out cheaper options and raising out-of-pocket prices.

Looking after children need not be particularly expensive, given the reserve army of stay-at-home parents who could scale up to care for another kid. But if money is exchanged and the child is cared for in the friend’s home, the government dictates that person must apply to be a registered childminder, going through childminder registration, extensive training, Ofsted inspections and more.

These expanding supply-sapping constraints, coupled with subsidies for nurseries that crowd out childminder demand, have seen registered numbers plunge from 103,000 in the mid-1990s to less than 40,000 by the pandemic’s onset.

Restrictions on childcare supply don’t stop there, of course. Brexit has undermined the au pair childcare option, whereby a young foreigner, usually from the EU, lived in your house, obtaining free lodgings in exchange for a modest payment of £5,000 per year to learn English while providing regular childcare. Now applicants must go through the new visa route for a skilled occupation, which requires a salary of at least £20,480. This raises the cost to something comparable with a British nanny, an alternative which itself brings all the responsibilities and paperwork associated with hiring an employee.

Then there are the regulatory restrictions in the form of staff:child ratios across settings, something which the Conservatives wanted to relax early last decade, though their coalition Lib Dem partners blocked them. When such regulations bind, they have the perverse impacts of either making childcare more expensive or reducing wages for childcare workers, by reducing staff members’ revenue-earning potential. From the childcare-specific to the general, “low-skilled immigration” restrictions, minimum wage increases, and tight planning laws all raise the costs of childcare provision too.

Ofsted and governments claim childcare regulations are needed to ensure “quality” – so that carers aren’t overburdened with kids and have the right training to improve child development. But why are governments, rather than parents, the best judges of “quality” here? It seems upper class professionals are imposing their preferences for formal settings on everyone else, with this attempt to “raise quality” bringing the inevitable trade-off of higher prices and fewer affordable providers.

The demand for subsidies and government commitments to deliver “free care” is, in large part, a reaction to this. But subsidies don’t solve the underlying problem of inflated costs making provision uneconomic. Just the opposite, in fact. When governments provide “free” care, they have to cap the rates they are willing to pay, lest providers ramp up prices. Yet these effective price controls are often lower than would-be market prices, putting a big squeeze on even nurseries.

This has perverse consequences. Providers tend to cross-subsidise government-financed rates by charging more for unsubsidised families with older or younger kids. As “free” care has broadened to 30 hours per week for three and four year olds, the opportunities to price discriminate like this have fallen, further straining the viability of many nurseries.

A full 39 per cent of child-care settings said their profits fell as the 15 hours of care for three and four year olds was extended to 30 hours. The Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years warned back then that providers were losing some of their best staff because they were simply unable to increase wages given the level of government payments. Others began to strip back services offered for vulnerable two-year-olds, because these children were relatively less profitable given the tighter regulations on staff-to-children ratios for that age group.

The result: more dissatisfaction. The steady descent into a highly regulated, highly subsidized model has raised market prices for those still paying out-of-pocket, seen some providers go out of business, and brought ever-rising demands for governments to step in with yet higher subsidies or even direct provision. Covid-19, of course, has plunged the sector into more disarray, with discussion of as many as a quarter of providers going under.

It’s time we unwound this costly experiment, rather than doubling down with yet more subsidies. High prices and the restricted availability of childcare is in large part a result of bad policy. Politicians must recognise that, as with housing, they have constrained the supply of childcare and then bid up demand. In doing so, they have not just made out-of-pocket childcare less affordable, but suffocated the sort of pluralism a market would provide.

Harry Benson: Sewell Report highlights the damage caused by family breakdown, but doesn’t offer solutions

16 Apr

Harry Benson is Research Director for the Marriage Foundation and co-author of What Mums Want (and Dads Need to Know).

The recent report by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, released a month ago today, claims to be the first government-commissioned study on race that seriously engages with the family.

Dr Tony Sewell and colleagues quite rightly say we should not stigmatise lone parents. But nor should we turn a blind eye to the impact of family breakdown on the life chances of children.

However, by failing to identify the drivers of family breakdown, the report does exactly that. Just two of its 24 recommendations (#7 and #19) mention ‘family’. None address factors that might improve stability and reduce family breakdown, such as marriage, commitment, or even relationship quality.

For those who take their cue from data rather than opinion, the report is excellent in highlighting how factors such as family, socio-economic background, geography, culture and religion have a more significant impact on family outcomes than race. If only it hadn’t stopped there.

One of the most striking findings comes from a new release on lone parent families by the Office for National Statistics. While careful to avoid any charge of passing judgment, the report identifies how lone parent families typically face greater strain and need more support than couple families. Among ethnic groups, the range of lone parenthood rates is huge. Least stable are black Caribbean families, where 63 per cent of children live in lone parent households compared to just six per cent among Indian families, who are the most stable. By way of comparison, the proportion for the UK as a whole is 22 per cent (not 14.7 per cent, as claimed in the report).

Other than a nod to divorce and the influence of male responsibility and the welfare state, there is little attempt to explain this striking variation between groups.

In an analysis of family breakdown among 9,000 families with 11-year-olds that I did with my colleague Professor Steve McKay at the University of Lincoln, we found that ethnicity does indeed make a difference. All other factors being equal, black fathers are more likely to split from the mother and Asian mothers are less likely to split from the father. Black mothers and Asian fathers face no greater or lesser risk than their white counterparts.

However – and it is a big however – the influence of ethnicity is only a fraction as important as the mother’s age, education, or happiness and whether she is married or cohabiting when the child is born.

Being married rather than cohabiting is one of the most important factors in predicting whether couples stay together or split up. It’s more important than the mother’s education, but six times more important than mother’s ethnicity and 17 times more important than father’s ethnicity.

In another analysis we did of 14-year-olds in the next wave of the same survey, we found that ethnicity did not influence teenage boys mental health at all. But it did have a small but counterintuitive effect on girls. Black girls were slightly less likely to show high levels of mental health problems, whereas Pakistani or Bangladeshi girls were more likely. This latter effect disappeared altogether once the parents’ income was taken into account.

Once again, other factors played a far more important role than race. Family breakdown, being married when the child was born, and the mother’s education were the most important factors predicting subsequent teenage mental health.

Dr Sewell and his colleagues are absolutely right to point out that family breakdown has a much bigger effect on outcomes than race. But their recommendations fall badly short without acknowledging how marriage – and the clarity of commitment that it represents – are the key buffer against family breakdown.

Gary Powell: Ministers shouldn’t appease the LGBT+ lobby. It doesn’t speak for all gay people – certainly not for me.

13 Apr

Cllr Gary Powell is a councillor in Buckinghamshire.

While China continues on its stratospheric journey as an economic and military superpower, the West preoccupies itself with the new cultural Marxism of identity politics.

Unfettered from the inconvenience of objective reality and scientific verification, this ideology sweeps across the political and social landscape with a degree of contagion matched only by its contempt towards our foundational belief systems, and the rights of anyone too low in the woke pecking order to matter.

A major prong in this identity politics colonisation, the LGBT+ lobby continues to pressure the Government; and the Government, presumably with an eye to increasing the younger vote, looks as though it is wobbling.

Yet who populates this “LGBT+ community”, and on whose authority do LGBT+ spokespeople speak? Although I’m a gay man and a longstanding gay rights campaigner, this lobby doesn’t speak for me. Many lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people, across the political spectrum, actively campaign against the LGBT+ lobby.

The primary LGBT+ obsession is the introduction and enforcement of extreme gender ideology – which has nothing to do with sexual orientation. Many gay and lesbian people strongly oppose the values and aims of the LGBT+ lobby and do not consent to its claims to speak on our behalf. We are not a homogeneous attitudinal monolith, and the real gay and lesbian community has never elected these strident spokespeople.

How can we support a lobby that has redefined homosexuality to mean “same-gender attraction” rather than “same-sex attraction”, so that gay and lesbian people are now called “transphobes” and “genital fetishists” for asserting our surely unassailable right only to date people of the same biological sex as ourselves?

The LGBT+ lobby is a dangerously anti-gay and misogynistic force, steamrolling over women’s and girls’ sex-based rights and protections, attempting to give intact biological males access to hitherto exclusively female environments and domains, simply on the basis of “transgender” self-identification. It attempts to remove the right of same-sex attracted people to meet and organise exclusively on the basis of our sole shared characteristic of same-sex sexual orientation.

We now often get called “LGBT+” instead of gay or lesbian. Young gay and lesbian people – assailed by a barrage of online transgender grooming, woke LGBT+ school and media indoctrination, and modish peer contagion – are increasingly self-identifying as “trans”, and therefore as heterosexual but in the wrong body, inviting the irreversible risks associated with a possible nightmare journey into hormone blockers, cross-sex hormones and even amputations: a modern form of “conversion therapy” that was examined in a recent piece by Radical on these pages.

The history and language of the historical LGB rights movement – “conversion therapy”, “Section 28” – are being casually misappropriated by an extreme gender movement that is actively undermining our autonomy and identity.

Until around 2015, LGB people had the same unchallenged right as every other social minority group to meet and to organise on the basis of our shared common characteristic, which is sexual orientation and nothing else. However, following gay marriage, some grabby gay rights charities and activists needed a new minority cause to keep the ker-ching in their cash registers and to keep the victim identity bandwagon rolling. Consequently, the “T” (transgender) was added to their campaigns, even though “gender identity” has nothing to do with LGB rights.

This still wasn’t enough, and further groups were added to the expanding alphabetic initialism, representing such phenomena as “asexuality”, “kink”, and the “furry” identity, (something to do with dressing up as a furry animal). The free-for-all “plus” in “LGBT+” is reflected in Stonewall’s current motto: “Acceptance without exception”. Surely a bad maxim that encourages blind acceptance even of things that are harmful.

The LGBT+ lobby’s attempt to impose extreme gender ideology on society also does little to help people with genuine gender dysphoria, who deserve acceptance and support, who do no harm by presenting culturally as the opposite sex while respecting the traditional sex-based boundaries that are in place to protect women and girls, and whose reputation is harmed by association with social engineering, zealotry and overreach.

A ferociously-championed political movement, extreme gender ideology is designed to undermine cultural norms, scientific reality, the connection between motherhood and children, parental rights, and freedom of speech: aspects of society one might reasonably expect the Conservative Party to defend tooth and nail as a party that is meant to be conserving what is good and valuable.

The gay and lesbian community has never agreed to merge its cause with any other group’s cause, or to surrender our right only to date members of the same sex, our right not to make common cause with extreme gender ideology, or our right not to give up our exclusive gay or lesbian spaces. Neither have we agreed to encourage LGB young people to wrongly believe they are transgender and be set on a de facto conversion therapy pathway to self-identified heterosexuality by means of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones.

The individuals in the sub-categories that this purely hypothetical “LGBT+ community” composite claims to represent do not form a monolith, and we have a right to our own individual views and opinions: that includes the many mainstream, moderate trans people whose own campaign to help people with gender dysphoria and enlighten the public has also been hijacked by victim-culture social engineers pushing an extreme political agenda.

Many gay and lesbian people on the planet do not enjoy even the most basic of gay rights: Western sensibilities over a wedding cake don’t even hit the radar, and pronouns are the smallest beer imaginable. Homosexuality is still illegal in 70 countries, where the death penalty can be imposed in several. In some places, gay people are publicly flogged.

Yet the western LGBT+ lobby remains primarily obsessed with self-indulgent identity politics that will allow natal men to drive a coach and horses through women’s and girls’ sex-based rights and protections and will cause confused, misinformed and traumatised children to wrongly self-identify as trans.

Countries with anti-gay customs and laws can now point to the LGBT+ overreach in the West as an excuse to block basic gay rights reforms at home. The Western LGBT+lobby is harming the rights of gay and lesbian people, children and women across the globe. This is not a movement that deserves appeasement – least of all from conservatives – and there should be no more concessions.

We need Conservative leadership that will stop neo-Marxist identity politics being force-fed to children in British schools, and not a Government of appeasement that abandons conservative principles while nervously and surreptitiously shifting to the woke left in search of votes from an indoctrinated Brave New Generation.

Race and disparities. A report so commonsensical but consensus-challenging that we’re surprised it was allowed to happen.

31 Mar

“The Conservatives, ethnic minority voters, and the election. Next to no progress”: such was the headline we wrote for Sunder Katwala’s post-poll piece on this site in 2019. The sum of his article was that Tory hopes of a breakthrough among Indian and Chinese-origin voters had not been realised.

The party had made “only modest progress” with them, mirrored by “a modest decline” elsewere – from 24 per cent of the ethnic minority whole to 20 per cent. His piece opened with a stark sentence: “not being white remains the number one demographic predictor of not voting Conservative.”

Henry Hill’s study of the new Tory intake in the Commons painted a similar picture: “at under five per cent of the new intake, the share or black or minority MPs in the Class of 2019 is lower than 2017 or 2015, and the share elected for safe seats is a third of what it was two years ago”.

One response to that last figure might be: don’t look at the share, look at the number – which shows that 22 such MPs were elected in 2019 compared to 19 in 2017.  That figure could be a starting-point for how the Conservatives might do better come the next election than “next to no progress”.

In short words, aim for evolutionary rather than radical change.  Dig in at local level, deploying pavement politics to win council seats in areas with high concentrations of ethnic minority voters.  Find new candidates from among them.  Make progress in Mayoral contests. Build up to challenging for the local Commons seat.

Take up and campaign on causes that matter to such voters: sickle cell disease, among people of an African or Caribbean origin; religious burial among those with a Pakistani or Bangladeshi background. Stress values: family, work and education.

Above all, take the Party’s approach to climate change as a model: just as it doesn’t dispute the challenge of global warming (far from it), don’t quarrel with that of institutional racism: the doctrine that institutions can be judged guilty of it even if individuals within them may not be – especially given the new context of Black Lives Matter.

And alhough while no individual within an institution may be racist, his actions can be recorded as such if they are “perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person”.  That’s the legacy of William Macpherson’s culture-shaping report in the wake of the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

Whatever may be said for or against such a softly-softly approach, some of the new generation of Conservative ethnic minority MPs strain against it – most notably Kemi Badenoch, whose Commons speech against critical race theory last year made waves.

And just as there is a new generation of ethnic minority MPs, so there is a new one of ethnic minority intellectuals, academics, writers, educationalists and police – in terms of approach if not always of age.  One of them is Munira Mirza, Head of the Downing Street Policy Unit.

Others include some of the commissioners of the Government’s Commission on Race and Ethnic disparities, such as Tony Sewell, its chair.  Or, elsewhere, business people, like Trevor Phillips, who has contributed to this site.  Or doctors such as Raghib Ali, another contributor, and an adviser to the Government on Covid and disparities.

Raghib’s thinking foreshadows that of this latest report, published yesterday.  “Racism still blights too many lives today,” he wrote for ConservativeHome last year, and the Commission takes up where he left off.  The first of its 24 recommendations is: “challenge racist and discriminatory actions”.

Others include “teaching an inclusive curriculum”; “investigate what causes existing ethnic pay disparities”; “create police workforces that represent the communities they serve” and “increase legitimacy and accountability of stop and search through body-worn video”.

So far, so conventional – and none the worse for it.  But just as Raghib went further, acknowedging ethnic disparities but dismissing systemic racism, so this report goes further, too, as it comes to similar conclusions.  The picture it presents is one of a slow, attritional but persistent advance.

Above all, it dismisses the view of ethnic minorities as always disadvantaged compared to the white majority – to be bundled together under the acronym BAME: a homogeneous lump in which the African-origin and Chinese-origin experience, say, are treated as much the same.

Here is an extract from the report which gives the flavour: “education is the single most emphatic success story of the British ethnic minority experience. The Commission notes that the average GCSE Attainment 8 score for Indian, Bangladeshi and Black African pupils were above the White British average”.

No wonder, in the context of its findings as a whole, that the Commission joins the list of those who find that BAME label conceals more than it reveals: British Future, of which Sunder is the Director, says that “it is better to use words, rather than acronyms”.  The Centre for Social Justice wants the term dropped.

But it goes almost without saying that opposing racism, and suggesting ways of combatting it, won’t be enough for those whose commissions, jobs, sincures and votes are founded on the doctrine of social regress, rather than social progress; on victimhood rather than agency; and on institutional racism rather than persistent racism.

There is a Victimhood Blob just as there is an Education Blob, and it fears that where new thinking goes today, the electorate will go tomorrow.  No wonder the attack on the commissioners is already turning, in some quarters, personal and unscrupulous.  The stakes are too high for it to be otherwise.

We wonder whether their assessment is correct.  It may be that this report marks a historic turning-point in race relations in Britain, with the Tory-voting white plurality is especially receptive.  Or it may be that the structural racism narrative is too well entrenched, too dug in after 25 years, to be shifted by a single Government.

Without the commitment of Mirza herself (already a target of Far Left unreason), we doubt if the report would have been commissioned.  Boris Johnson’s technique is to wait for Woke to over-reach, as in the case of the Churchill statue assault, before committing himself, rather than strike questingly into its intellectual territory.

Perhaps the best way of looking at the report is to shake oneself free of these political, tactical considerations, and simply ask: is the Commission right – for example, in saying that unconscious bias training should be scrapped?  In its view that all ethnic minorities don’t move forward at the same pace?

In essence, the report argues that the three biggest determinants of life chances are family, education and work.  This seems to us to be so unrebuttable as, ultimately, to be certain to win through.  Which doesn’t mean that the report is perfect: we are not sure that it has got to the heart of the problems for black people in relation to crime and justice.

Nor does it follow that because a report has analysed a problem accurately, the Government will act appropriately.  British governments are notorious for being among the most indiiferent to families in Europe, with the noxious consequences that Miriam Cates described on ConservativeHome earlier this week.

Perhaps the “review to…take action to address the underlying issues facing families” recommended in the report will turn the tide.  At the level of words, perhaps with deeds to come, this is the most consensus-challenging, bold and implication-rich Government initiative to date.  We can’t help being surprised that it was allowed to happen at all.

Miriam Cates: The uncomfortable truth is that we’re failing many families – but have a post-pandemic chance to put that right.

30 Mar

Miriam Cates is MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge 

Britain’s vaccination programme and the Chancellor’s recent Budget will bring fresh opportunities to reimagine the policies and processes that govern us. So many of us have become remote workers, home-schoolers and serial Zoomers and, and while much of this will revert back to normal, I suspect some of our new patterns of behaviour will stick.

We know that by-and-large the pandemic has not been a ‘great leveller’. While some of my constituents have enjoyed their new-found flexibility, others have found balancing work and home commitments nothing less than impossible. Flexibility is great if you can get it, but not all people have the kind of jobs that allow them to juggle their caring responsibilities for children and elderly relatives. Many parents of young children live with the constant struggle of trying to make ends meet whilst longing to spend more quality time with their kids.

A re-emphasis on the value of family life could be the most exciting product of the changes brought about by the pandemic. We must ensure our tax system acknowledges people as mothers, fathers, sons and daughters who form a household, not just individual units who are worth more to the economy the more they work. After all, this is a false economy.

I was recently privileged to host the launch of a new CARE Tax and the Family report, Taxation of UK families 2019, which helps to highlight some of the challenges families face and how we might chart a way forward towards a fairer future.

As a result of Gordon Brown’s decision to abolish the Married Couple Allowance and Additional Person’s Allowance in 2000, someone who earns let;s say £40,000 a year, will pay the same amount of income tax and national insurance regardless of whether they are a single adult with no dependants, or a lone parent supporting three children.

For a one-earner household with four children to have the same standard of living as a single person earning £26 500, the working parent has to earn nearly £80,000, a salary over three times the median income. According to the  new report, single parents with two children on the average OECD wage for the UK of £40,803 face an ‘overall tax burden’ (that is income tax and national insurance, less benefits) that is 26 per cent higher than the OECD average.  For a one-earner married couple with two children on the same wage, the tax burden is 25 per cent higher. Meanwhile, singles in the UK without children on the same wage pay on average ten per cent less tax than they do across the OECD on average.

This problem is further compounded by the way that benefits are clawed back as parents try to work more hours. This gives UK families one of the highest effective marginal tax rates in the world, with some families losing 75p of every additional £1 they earn. It is the impact of this double whammy of the high tax rate and high benefit withdrawal that makes the British effective marginal tax rate so problematic.

How our tax system treats families is an indicator of how much society values children; the uncomfortable truth is that we are failing many families in this regard.

For years, the UK response to the problems faced by working families has been to strive for more and more cheap childcare, but I don’t think this is the answer and, in many ways, it has devalued the role of parents.

It was never any Government’s intention to create a tax system that is so individualistic, but tax policies reflect – and often drive – the behaviour we value as a society. Our current system encourages as many people as possible into paid work to drive up GDP, but fails to recognise any wider contribution made by individuals such as providing unpaid care.

I believe that at the heart of this unfairness lies a lost understanding of the value of parenting. Of course parents have a responsibility to provide materially for their children; but this is not their only important role. We don’t just have children to put food in their mouths and clothes on their backs, but also to pass on our values and to prepare them for adult life. Parenting takes time, effort and a huge amount of emotional resilience; resources that are in short supply when stressed parents are working long hours and have little energy to spare.

When parents can’t cope and families break down this is at great cost to the taxpayer. While reforming our tax system to recognise family responsibility would – in the immediate term – be costly, surely it is far better to invest in preventing families from collapsing than to spend money picking up the pieces.

There is another way. Almost all other developed countries have tax systems that recognise family responsibility and the significant costs of raising children. In Germany, families receive effective tax allowances that acknowledge the importance of parenting, encouraging parents to invest time and energy in raising their children. We could do a lot worse than learning from our friends and allies and the approaches they take.

Any review of the income tax system in the UK will take time, but it will be worth it. Supporting families should not be politically controversial; as Conservatives, we have always held families and the role of parents in high esteem. And as Conservatives we also know that we can’t afford not to.

Cristina Odone: How to help poorer mothers – and become a family-friendly government by doing so

11 Mar

Cristina Odone is Head of Family Policy at the Centre for Social Justice.

“They shouldn’t have children if they can’t afford them.”

I heard this familiar refrain often, when I was growing up, directed at lone mothers raising a brood of kids on welfare. Why should hard-working tax-payers shell out so someone could slob about the house in pyjamas and curlers, children at their feet?

That was America, in the 1970s. But a spirit not dissimilar is at work in twenty-first century Britain. The state sees no reason to help mothers who don’t work.

Yes, the Government, which offers up to 30 hours of free childcare for three and four-year-olds to families, will extend this to mothers who have been furloughed.

The policy has packed a less than powerful punch for low income families: at a recent extraordinary witness session of the Early Years Commission run jointly by the Centre for Social Justice and the Fabian Society, participants reported that because there “is no norm of pre-school offer” and the offer is too complicated, the share of childcare spending on low-income families has fallen by close to half, from 45 per cent to 27 per cent.

The aim was to promote female participation in the labour market. Successive governments from New Labour on have regarded this as a priority: more taxes raised, less benefits paid. It makes financial sense when you calculate that £16.7 million is lost every year in potential tax gains and benefits paid to mums who have not returned to work.

A tax system that treats us as single units seems equally sensible. We may be parenting the same children, but we regard ourselves as autonomous individuals, judged on our own merit.

This mindset suits many women. High-profile and professional, they regularly take to social media and the airwaves to hail free childcare for liberating women, and limit their asks to equal pay for equal work, flexi-time at the office, more part time opportunities – and maybe a creche at work.

These women have a well-paid career – or a wealthy partner or spouse. They can afford to spend the first years of their children’s lives off work, or to hire a nanny or au pair. They will still multi-task crazily, taking on maternal and professional tasks. They will still bridle at the glass ceiling that persists across almost every industry. But they can afford a family.

Slide down the earnings ladder to the woman for whom work amounts to a job, not a high-flying career. How can she afford to raise a family? She would love to stay home to care for her children, provide a role model for them, share with them her own parents’ values and traditions. She senses what neuroscience confirms: that those first 1001 days from conception are key in a child’s development. And even later on, schools may offer a great deal – but until they are 14, a child spends 84 per cent of their time at home.

This working mother loses out on every front. After tax, her spouse’s income is not enough for the family to survive on, so she must work too. Neither partner can afford to work part time: anything less than what they earn now would spell penury. She can’t do overtime, though, without worrying about leaving her children vulnerable to gang-recruitment or child sexual exploitation.

The couple work all hours just to break even, and arrive home stressed and exhausted. Money worries and job uncertainty (McKinsey reports that women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable during the pandemic than men’s) rock the relationship. The family risks breakdown – with all the damage that this entails.

It need not be this way.

The Treasury could transform this mother’s fate by adopting a simple, tried and tested, approach: tax parents on their combined income, and offer them tax credits for each child. With this one move, the Chancellor would recognise the value of the family, and the important role parents play in forming the next generation.

Championing this fiscal model is a high-profile mother – the Miriam Cates, the recently-elected MP for Penistone and Stockbridge. Cates is socialising the idea at Westminster – and getting traction among women both sides of the House.

The present system, Cates points out, ignores total household income and parental responsibilities. A woman on £30,000 a year will pay the same amount of tax and national insurance, regardless of whether she is living on her own, without children, or is a lone parent with three dependent children.

Cates was inspired by the way the German tax system takes into account the significant costs, in terms of time as well as money, of raising children. By taxing couples on their combined income, Germany promotes rather than penalises single earner families. In this country the opposite is true – so that a one earner couple with two children in the UK pays nine times the taxes that their counterpart in Germany will pay. The child tax credit – in Germany, this is £2500 – further contributes to a more family-friendly fiscal system.

For Cates, representing a Red Wall constituency, this is a key part of any levelling up agenda: why should raising children become an elitist pursuit? She has a point: a government willing to subsidise restaurants and pubs can surely subsidise children, too.

Being seen as a family-friendly government would prove popular – and not only among the socially conservative Red Wall voters. A recent CSJ survey found that 88 per cent of parents and 82 per cent of adults thought that more should be done to help parents who wish to stay at home and bring up their children in the early years.

The benefits of incentivising one-earner families extend well beyond the home. The present system, which steers everyone into paid work, undermines the other kind of work – the unpaid, altruistic volunteering that has proved key to the country’s resilience during the pandemic. Mothers are not the only ones who have, or should, volunteer; but again and again, they ran the PTA, helped with the church bazaar, offered to shop for the octogenarian neighbour. Help them to be in a position to raise their children and they will be in a position to help the rest of us too.

The Chancellor should stop treating us as atomised individuals, freed of any relational moorings. Families cannot be ignored, nor should they be punished. They could even, dare I say it, be encouraged.

Sally-Ann Hart: ‘DIY’ home abortion puts women and babies at risk, and ministers should end it

29 Jan

Sally-Ann Hart is the MP for Hastings and Rye and was a councillor in Rother.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) recently launched its public consultation on whether to make home use of both abortion pills a permanent measure in the UK.

‘At-home’ abortions – which the media and critics have termed ‘DIY’, or ‘do-it-yourself’ abortions – were introduced on 30th March 2020 in the most radical change to abortion law since 1967. After a phone call with an abortion provider, women can now be sent Mifepristone and Misoprostol pills to take at home without direct medical supervision in order to end their pregnancies.

Originally sanctioned as a temporary measure to reduce transmission of Covid-19 during the pandemic, abortion campaigners and providers are pushing to make ‘at-home’ abortions permanent.

But given the risk of serious complications, coercion from abusive partners, and inability to verify gestational age over the phone, the Government should immediately withdraw the temporary order. Should it and the consultation continue, however, I can only hope we see the concerns of those responding to the consultation taken seriously by our Government.

Before reviewing the serious complications that have occurred in relation to ‘DIY’ home abortion, it is prudent to refute recent claims in the New Statesman of a relative lack of medical complications for ‘DIY’ home abortion. Indeed, this article rather serves to highlight the serious problem of systemic underreporting of such issues.

DHSC data show only one complication following ‘DIY’ home abortion from April to June this year for the whole of England and Wales. Unbelievably, this would mean that the average rate of complication for medical abortions at a similar gestation over the past five years was over seventeen times higher than the complication rate for ‘DIY’ home abortions earlier this year. This is not only highly unlikely – that complications would radically reduce in a home setting versus a medical setting – but, some may say, ridiculous.

Indeed, evidence from a Freedom of Information (FOI) request demonstrates clearly the current issues related to reporting complications when abortions take place outside a clinical setting. The data from the FOI request shows seven women were admitted to University Hospital Lewisham alone for complications following medical abortion between the end of March and the beginning of September this year.

If both Departmental and hospital records were true, this is a shocking leap from just one complication nationwide in the three months from April to June to a further six complications in the same locality in the two months from July to September. There is either a serious problem with sharply rising complications in Lewisham since the end of June, or a substantial issue with the overall quality of reporting and recording the real impact of medical abortion on women’s health when abortions take place at home.

Serious complications can certainly arise when abortion is removed from a clinical environment. One Swedish study from 2018 of almost 5,000 induced abortions over eight years (from 2008 to 2015 inclusive) found that the complication rate for medical abortions before 12 weeks’ gestation almost doubled from 4.2 per cent in 2008 to 8.2 per cent in 2015, concluding that the significant surge in complications “may be associated with a shift from hospital to home medical abortions.”

Requiring the first pill to be administered in a clinic provided essential safeguards for women, not least as it allowed for an in-person examination or ultrasound to verify whether a woman was too far along in her pregnancy to be prescibed a medical abortion.

Tragically, we have already begun to see the effects of the absence of such safeguards. Police have been investigating the death of an unborn child who was aborted at 28 weeks – four weeks past the legal limit for surgical abortion and a shocking 18 weeks past the limit for abortions at home. Notably, abortion provider BPAS stated they were investigating the case along with eight other known incidents of babies who were aborted past the 10 week legal limit for ‘at-home’ abortions.

Only this year, a study (funded by NICE) found that for later gestational dates, greater dosage of misoprostol may be required to achieve a complete abortion. As such, there ‘may be more pain or bleeding associated with the expulsion of a larger/later pregnancy’. This clearly highlights a need for accuracy in determining gestational age, particularly if the woman expels the pregnancy at home.

Further concerns are highlighted by a leaked NHS email from a Regional Chief Midwife on the ‘escalating risk’ around the ‘pills by post’ service in May 2020, which revealed that a woman received abortion pills at 32 weeks of pregnancy. The email goes on to note that there were 13 incidents under investigation linked to ‘at-home’ abortions, and “3 police investigations”, one of which “is currently a murder investigation as there is a concern that the baby was live born.”

If such troubling incidents occurred within weeks of the ‘DIY’ home abortion ruling, making it a permanent feature of our healthcare system would clearly be a disservice to women in the UK.

In addition, many women in domestic abuse situations may be coerced by their partner into having an abortion. If we remove the requirement of a face-to-face consultation, there is no guarantee that a patient can speak freely without the coercive party listening in. Indeed, Health Minister Lord Bethell iterated these concerns on behalf of the Government when the Coronavirus Bill was brought to the House of Lords on 25 March, recognising that:

“If there is an abusive relationship and no legal requirement for a doctor’s involvement, it is far more likely that a vulnerable woman could be pressured into having an abortion by an abusive partner.”

Furthermore, if a woman is in a domestic abuse situation, leaving her to perform her own abortion at home only helps her abuser by enabling her to remain in an abusive situation.

Accounts from women of their experience of the ‘pills by post’ system should further compel the Government to immediately suspend this temporary order. For example, a nurse who suffered extreme complications from ‘DIY’ home abortion that left her needing life-changing surgery disclosed that she experienced ‘excruciating pain’, and heavy bleeding that continued for ten days after the abortion. Claiming Marie Stopes failed to provide follow up care, she also shares: “I’m actually quite shocked that the UK, with all of our research and expertise would approve this”.

In addition to physical complications, other women have expressed concern at the ease and speed with which they were able to acquire these life-changing pills. One woman describing her experience stated: “I wasn’t ready. It all seemed so fast. I was expecting to speak to lots of people, to be offered counselling.” Yet ‘greater capacity’ and ‘shorter waiting times’ have been lauded by proponents of ‘at-home’ abortion as prime reasons for extending the scheme, perhaps due to the notion that telemedical abortions free up NHS resources.

This is the kind of language used to discuss routine health appointments and hip replacements; that this narrative is currently being used to frame the life-changing decision to abort a child – the termination of a human life – is truly disturbing. Tragically, this same language is replicated in the newly launched UK public consultation, where participants are encouraged to reflect on ‘at-home’ abortion services in the context of ‘workforce flexibility, efficiency of service delivery’ and ‘value for money’.

Opposition to ‘DIY’ abortion schemes is widespread across the UK. Hundreds of healthcare professionals recently signed an open letter to the Health Minister of Northern Ireland to highlight the dangers of removing essential safeguards around abortion. Additionally following the launch of the Scottish Government consultation on ‘at-home’ abortion in October, Chairman of the Scottish Council on Bioethics Dr Antony Latham highlighted the increased health risk if ‘DIY’ home abortions are introduced on a permanent basis, stating ‘significant bleeding and sepsis are not uncommon.’ He further notes that the removal of in-person consultation opens the door for abortion coercion.

Finally, polling suggests that in-person assessment during the abortion process is highly valued by women in the UK; in one poll 77 per cent of women agreed that doctors should be legally required to verify in person that a patient seeking abortion is not being coerced, while another poll showed that 92 per cent of women agreed that a woman seeking an abortion should always be seen in person by a qualified doctor.

‘At-home’ abortions are not safe, and must not be euphemised as abortion ‘care’. Contrary to representation from abortion activists and providers, extending the ‘at-home’ abortion policy is not a given, and the public consultation has been launched with the option to ‘end immediately’.

Safe and effective healthcare is central to our British values: this irresponsible policy must be revoked before more lives are put at risk. I encourage all reading this to respond to the consultation – and select ‘end immediately.’

Julian Brazier: A single allowance rate for Inheritance Tax – and five other proposals for making social care more resilient

23 Jan

Sir Julian Brazier is a former Defence Minister, and was MP for Canterbury from 1987-2017.

A great deal is currently being written about resilience – normally an underrated subject in politics. Building resilience should not just be about considering major national or global crises, but also involve asking questions about the likelihood of – and the solutions to – more frequent and more local crises. These range from NHS winter pressures to power cuts to cyber and terrorist attacks.

At the same time, there is an overwhelming view today that social care needs urgent reform and greater intervention from government. Yet there seems to be little appetite for considering these two great issues together:  the care of the elderly and its implications for national and local resilience.

This article seeks to show that incentives in current provision, for social care, benefits and tax, are reducing resilience. Some of the current proposals for social care ‘reform’ would worsen this.

The largest category of vulnerable people are those elderly people who cannot live without supporting care. Their domestic circumstances can be divided into four broad categories, listed in descending order of independence:

  • Those still in their original homes (whether owned or rented) with visiting carers,
  • the growing category of those in specially adapted sheltered accommodation
  • those living with family, in so called ‘inter-generational’ arrangements and, finally,
  • those in residential care.

How do these categories measure up for resilience?

At first sight, the least resilient group are those people living in their own, unmodified homes; they are reliant on visiting carers, who may not be able – or willing – to come in a crisis. They are also more likely to fall over or have an episode isolated in surroundings which have not been adapted, are most vulnerable in power cuts, for the same reason, and – crucially – they are often difficult to discharge from hospital.

But there are serious problems with the fourth category too. We have seen the problems with care homes in a pandemic. With their communal eating and recreation facilities, such homes have proved principal vectors of disease.

Equally, they have become a major cause of bed blocking, once the dangers of releasing patients to them was recognised. Britain’s higher-than-European-average concentration of people in residential homes has worsened our death rates and increased pressures on the NHS.

As Conservatives, we should also be concerned that residential care is not only the most expensive arrangement (whoever is picking up the bill). It also, for those fit enough to choose, offers the least independence.

This brings us to the two middle categories above.

Dwelling in adapted accommodation and living with younger family members are both comparatively resilient arrangements, and both are much less expensive than residential care.

They also have other features most Conservatives approve of. They offer a degree of independence absent in residential homes. There is also the potential for free childcare in inter-generational arrangements, or where nearby retirement accommodation has been chosen. Both categories offer an antidote to the loneliness of those still stranded with limited mobility in their original homes.

Any new system which aims to promote resilience should direct incentives towards rewarding, rather than penalising, these two middle categories: those who step down to retirement accommodation and those cared for by their descendants. That is how resilience is maximised.

Yet this is far from the case at present. Our commitment to ring-fencing the principal home for tax and benefit calculation purposes is a great policy, but one which has perverse unintended consequences when applied to transfers between generations. The state ends up penalising the heirs of those who aim for resilience, and rewarding many of those whose parents become most dependent.

For example, if an elderly person struggles on in their own home without much money, the state picks up the bill for their carers, and the potential strain on the NHS is maximised. Yet, if they own that home, their heirs will maximise the windfall when they die, compared to the alternatives. This has been exacerbated by the George Osborne tax break on Inheritance Tax, which greatly increases the exempt allowance, if and only if the inheritance is tied up in bricks and mortar.

On the other hand, suppose the same old person were to sell and move into purpose-built sheltered accommodation. They are less likely to have accidents where design has the frail in mind – and easier to release from hospital especially if there is warden assistance or such accommodation was selected to be close to relatives. Such people are also much less at risk in times of crisis – overall, a resilient arrangement.

Yet, from the point of view of their heirs, their estate diminishes, as the cash released from sale of the home is used to pay carers and service fees. If the original home was worth more than half a million pounds, thanks to the Osborne inheritance tax break, the heirs also face paying more tax than if the parent had soldiered on in the original house.

Similar points can be made about the position of families who look after elderly relatives at home, who have sold or moved out of their own houses. The one incentive such families currently get from the system for providing their loving care (and potentially relieving the state) is the carers’ allowance. Yet it is rumoured that there is a plan afoot to means test that. So, if the arriving parent or relative owns the proceeds of selling a property, that allowance would be lost.

It is time we built the promotion of resilience into our design of social care. My proposals are as follows:

  1. Abolish the Osborne bricks and mortar tax break by re-establishing a single allowance rate for Inheritance Tax.
  2. Extend that principle across the range of tax and benefit policies for the elderly to ensure that there is no financial incentive for potential recipients of inheritances to encourage their parents/relatives to stay in their homes, if they wish to move.
  3. Keep the carer’s allowance universal, so that those caring for relatives at home or in nearby accommodation can continue to draw it.
  4. Resist lobbying from the care sector and residents’ heirs for the taxpayer to take on more of the cost of residential fees to protect inheritances. Despite the political clamour, such proposals would be paid in part from by the taxes of those who are looking after relatives either at home or in neighbouring accommodation. That would doubly incentivise more people to move into residential homes, further increasing cost and – critically – still further reducing national resilience.
  5. Offer tax incentives to the elderly to move out of family homes into sheltered accommodation, including a permanent end to stamp duty on such properties. (Ironically, many councils pay ‘key money’ to release family accommodation but there is no scheme for owner occupiers). Gareth Lyon’s excellent article on this site pointed out how small this sector still is compared with Australia and new Zealand.

Shakespeare’s adage “sorrows … come not as single spies, but in battalions” is apt in the era of globalisation.  We simply do not know what shocks and challenges are just ahead. We must recognise that how we structure social care – and the associated tax and benefit framework for the elderly and their heirs – has profound consequences for resilience in major crises. It is also important for services under pressure in ‘peacetime’.