Keith Wheeler’s Wheeler’s Wisdom | OPINION, June 19, 2017

THE lesson for Australian politicians from the “surprise” result in the British election is, “don’t threaten the family home”.

The result would have been no surprise to Prime Minister Theresa May from the moment she read the headlines lashing her social care reforms, quickly dubbed the “Dementia Tax”.

The plan would have meant that average Britons would have had to include the value of the family home in calculating how much they would need to repay the government for their care in old age. 

I surveyed all of the British papers during the campaign. Not one supported the idea of confiscating the family home to pay for old age care.

Any politician who had an ounce of contact with the public would never have suggested such a foolish idea in the first place.

Had the Conservative Party talked with its base? It would appear that this policy was designed by a select few out-of-touch Cabinet Ministers.

It would attract no votes from Labor voters, but alienate their own supporters.

Theresa May has no children. That should not be a factor affecting voter support. Perhaps the lack of offspring allowed family-unfriendly thinking.

In seeking to use the family home to balance the budget, Theresa May lost the votes of the elderly (a very pro-Conservative voting bloc), while also swinging away the votes of family members.

It comes down to inheritance, which to the Conservatives (and to Liberal voters in Australia) is not a dirty word. The children in a family have had to make the sacrifices that go with saving to pay-off the family home. During Paul Keating’s 17.5 per cent home-interest era, our family was reduced to skimping on meals, clothes, holidays, and any suggestion of toys or little luxuries.

The children in a family see nothing wrong with the expectation that one day they will share in the proceeds of their parents’ estate.

Families that spend their income during their younger lives on overseas holidays, boats, new cars, fancy clothes, eating out, and so on, have enjoyable lives. That is their choice. In old age, however, without assets or savings, these people expect to automatically receive government assistance to support them. After all, they have paid taxes during their lifetimes, and expect to receive a pension and aged care when these are required.

Home owners have paid taxes too. But instead of cars and boats, their savings paid to buy the family home. In the frugal years the kids had to do without. Eventually the payback comes when the will is read. 

To hear Theresa May saying that aged care would be recovered when the family home was sold meant that older people saw their asset being confiscated by the government.

The now-adult children in the family would look at Theresa May’s policy, and think how their less frugal neighbours had been able to take their children on holidays, while they had to stay at home because the family had to meet home-loan repayments. 

No wonder older voters with assets in Britain swung against the Conservatives! No wonder their adult children deserted Theresa May!

So what is the lesson for Australia? Children also endure the sacrifices to build the family’s assets.

The family home belongs to the family, not the government. Inheriting Mum’s and Dad’s hard work is not a sin!