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Funding for later life

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Aries Director Ian Neale insists the pensions industry must support the fight for financing later life

On the day Carillion collapsed this week, I was in a meeting to discuss the scope of the forthcoming green paper on care and support for older people, expected by late July 2018. It’s important we get this right, because we need a sustainable plan to avert a catastrophe. We face a crisis in funding on a scale which could dwarf even Carillion.

Funding for later life is not all about pensions. Some of us – about 30% of the population at the moment – will need care, and about 10% are likely to need residential care costing £100,000+. Care homes charge around £30,000 per year, few can hope to save for a pension that size.

There’s a widespread belief that the state provides social care, but in reality more and more self-funding is being expected (Scotland, where care is free for those 65+ who the local authority has assessed as needing care, is an exception). Where local authorities can and do still pay, it is typically only about 60% of the true cost, which means care home providers have to seek a cross-subsidy from those who don’t qualify for state support; or go bust.

This is not sustainable; arguably not even in the short term. Four Seasons, one of the largest UK care home providers which looks after some 17,000-elderly people, has just had to be rescued by a US hedge fund. Thus a repeat of the 2011 Southern Cross catastrophe might have been narrowly averted. Images on BBC news of vulnerable people sitting outside in the street in wheelchairs must be a nightmare prospect for government.

That’s why I argue for a Later Life Commission. UK politicians are focused on the next election - but we need a vision of the long term. We in the pensions industry know this – and we also understand insurance. Long-term care is a classic insurable risk.

One solution, for some, is a deferred annuity that comes into payment at a certain age, say 85, with the rest of the pot remaining invested and drawdown providing a steady income in retirement up to that point. That’s fine, perhaps, if you have a pot worth half a million pounds to start with. But most people don’t – and won’t.

Equity release is often advocated, but there is a little problem and more attractive options are needed. Although research has shown that around 30% of older people are up for downsizing in old age, very few actually do. Some - a declining proportion - remain in their family home with younger relatives looking after them.

But if it’s not realistic to expect most people to be family-supported throughout old age, or self-funding even via insurance, what’s the case for the state to step in?

Six years ago the Dilnot Commission said nobody should have to pay more than £35,000 for their own care costs during their lifetime. In 2013 the government decided this was unaffordable and set the cap at £75,000. But that still meant many people would have to sell their home when they went into care.

So then the Conservative 2017 election manifesto took the opposite approach and proposed a floor of £100,000 on assets, including homes, above which you’d have to pay. That proved politically toxic too, so it was dropped.

So nothing changed: we still have means-testing, which is widely resented. Presently those with less than £14,000 in capital and savings pay nothing for care, but pay full price (or more, to cross-subsidise others) if they have more than £23,250.

I believe we need an integrated, long-term, national strategy for financing our later life. It might be absurdly optimistic to expect this summer’s green paper to deliver a plan. But it’s surely worth fighting for, and I believe we in the pensions industry have a responsibility to take the lead.

That’s why I took time out on Monday to join the discussion with those who will be drafting the green paper.

Ian Neale, Director, Aries Insight.