The last few days have seen a reality check on who’s paying for the long term care of our elderly. Now I read this morning a report by the Resolution Foundation on who’s paying for the deficit reduction plans for Defined Benefit pensions (hint- it isn’t the shareholder).
There is a simple truth at work here. If you don’t know who’s paying – it’s probably you!
As with care so with pensions
In the case of care, if the costs of residential and home care for the elderly, aren’t met from within the family unit, they call on local authorities, the NHS and ultimately on general taxation. The cost of funding is felt in closed libraries, the loss of cottage hospitals – all kinds of little projects that councils and the NHS have to cut back on. In the end, the cost is born by a future generation of tax-payer who must put up with less or pay more.
Resolution found that
“by far the biggest driver of the increase in non-wage payment increase in 2016 – was employer pension contributions”
That those picking up the tab are unlikely to be those benefiting
“With 85 per cent of DB schemes closed to new members and 35 percent also closed to future accrual, the population with most to gain from closing scheme deficits is likely to have limited overlap with the population affected by any reduction in dividend payments, investment or pay”
That the bill is (in part) being picked up by current workers
With the £19 billion relative increase in DB deficit payments that we have identified in 2016 being roughly equivalent to 2.5 per cent of the UK’s total wage bill, the implication is that such employer contributions are lowering average employee pay by between 0.2 per cent and 0.3 per cent.
in the region of 10 per cent of the £19 billion elevation in special (deficit) payments can be directly associated with lower hourly pay
Resolution admits to not having completed the research on where the rest of the impact falls, but it does not appear to have hit dividend payments or executive pay.
there is a significant negative effect (with a coefficient of 0.22 per cent) for those who have never been members when we concentrate on employees in the bottom quarter of the pay distribution
In short, the people paying for pension deficits, include those who have never paid for them – to a significant degree.
The clever win , the ignorant lose
What is clear both from the Resolution report on pension funding shortfall and from what is emerging about social care funding shortfalls, is that costs that are incurred by the better off (those who live long enough to fully enjoy DB pensions are also major beneficiaries of residential and home care) are being born by all parts of the workforce and indeed the wider society.
Those who instinctively opposed Conservative manifesto pledges, should be careful to think what the alternative of those with wealth meeting their costs actually is.
Those who are driving our defined benefit schemes along the grind-path to buy-out, should be aware of the wider impact of doing so on the workforce. I don’t here just mean the Pensions Regulator, the immediate enforcers of deficit reduction plans, but the PPF (with the extortionate levy which should be included in any “special contribution” calculation).
The ultimate beneficiaries of the pre-funding of defined benefit funding are
- the shareholder who is released from balance sheet misery
- the buy-out insurer (or PPF where deficit funding can be afforded)
- the DB scheme member whose interests are prioritised.
Arbitrary funding policies make matters worse
The arbitrary apportionment of cost of both pension scheme liabilities and long term care funding is made worse by the lack of consistency with which subsidisation is applied.
Let’s take first long-term care. There is ample research (see below) that the extent a family can seek relief from the direct cost of an elderly member falling into dependency is a post-code lottery. Steve Webb is rightly talking in a BBC article this morning about the disparity between Authorities in the application of cost deferment, but the Kings Foundation has found more worrying disparities between Authorities willingness to pay against the means test.
These reports point to growing skill among those wealthy and educated enough to know, to work of “game” the system for their own benefit. If you are skilled in understanding care funding, it is possible to get high subsidies, if you are not, you may pay the lot – even if you have relatively little to pay. The situation is analogous to the abuse of Church School education – which is monopolised by the children of the affluent – who wish to get a public school education at someone else’s expense.
As for pension deficits, the speed at which these are paid off depends on the willingness of employers to absorb the pain and their capacity to pass the pain on through low-risk activities such as reductions in pay and benefits to the current workforce. It is clear that employers will do anything within their power, including hugely expensive incentivisation of individual transfers, to get DB pensions off the balance sheet and the immediate expense can be justified to shareholders in terms of improvements to the balance sheet.
But the reality of such de-risking is not just a loss of value to members but a cost to the reward budget. As with care costs, there is a subsidisation of pension de-risking by those who are least likely to benefit.
No victimless crimes
The analogies I am drawing between care costs and DB pension costs are relevant to the current political debate. My general rule is that if you don’t know who’s paying, it’s probably you, applies. The clever people avoid paying and pass the costs on to the ignorant.
Some would argue that the answer is in social insurance but as with pensions, so with long-term care, social insurance can all too easily be gamed by those who have, at the expense of those who haven’t.
The current system of means testing long term care has been changed not by the shift in the means test from £23,500 to £100,000 but by the removal of the Cameron/Dilnot cap of £72,000 meaning that those with most to pay now have most to lose. This is undoubtedly fairer and though there is a lot of detail to be decided upon, it’s very much more transparent.
With transparency comes many benefits. At the moment, opacity is benefiting the clever and the rich, in the future we will pay for what we use, with a bar of £100k below which the inheritance cannot fall.
Many poor people will look at the bar and laugh at it as unattainable. For them long-term care need now have no fear. It is theirs by right.
In the few hours between publishing this blog this morning and publishing an update, the Conservative position has changed. As with National Insurance for the self employed. As for the review of pension tax relief, it seems that finding an owner for our long-term care costs, is back in the sidings of general taxation.
Resolution Foundation – The Pay Deficit – http://www.resolutionfoundation.org/app/uploads/2017/05/The-pay-deficit.pdf
BBC article on arbitrary apportionment of care costs; http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2017-39995648
The Local Government Association 2016 State of the Nation report on social care funding: http://www.local.gov.uk/documents/10180/7632544/1+24+ASCF+state+of+the+nation+2016_WEB.pdf/e5943f2d-4dbd-41a8-b73e-da0c7209ec12
The King’s Fund is a highly (probably the most) credible think-tank commentator on the issue: https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/topics/social-care – for their publications see: https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/publications/?f%5B0%5D=im_field_health_topic%3A27 .