My Lords, as the self-appointed keeper to this House of the Dilnot tablets, I support Amendments 55 and 56, spoken to so ably by my two noble friends. Turning to Amendment 55, in framing our recommendations in our report, it was never our intention to impose a new set of rigidities in place of the old set of rigidities. It is important that the new system retains as much flexibility as possible. It is worth thinking about what lies behind much of the argumentation in our report and the new architecture that that report proposes. It is all about people, in as fair, orderly and manageable a way as possible, making contributions from their own resources to the rising costs of adult social care as we cope with, live with and adapt to an ageing population. Given the messiness of the present arrangements for top-ups, it would be perverse not to create the maximum flexibility for people to top up, particularly where these top-ups relate to their ability to stay in a home where they and their family have been very comfortable with the arrangements. Preventing such top-ups would be a truly perverse way of implementing the Dilnot architecture. We need a more flexible way of coping with this. Therefore I support my noble friend Lord Lipsey’s set of amendments.
On Amendment 56, my noble friend has a very strong point. I say this as someone who spent 10 years wrestling with means tests as a senior civil servant coping with social security. In those 10 years, numerous were the times when we had to cope with unforeseen consequences of what we thought were well designed social policy changes, but which turned out not quite to work when subjected to the scrutiny of the real world across a large population. I congratulate the Government on taking our report and turning it into a largely workable—we have a few doubts, but largely workable—set of arrangements that can be brought into operation quickly. However it would be very optimistic to think that there would be no unforeseen consequences—wrinkles, if I may use the word—which needed to be looked at, in particular in the areas of means-testing and the working of the cap. I emphasise that this is not a job application from the Dilnot commission to make, like Frank Sinatra, another return appearance, but we do need some kind of credible, independent body to take a look at this.
I would just gently remind the noble Earl that, at the end of our report, on page 69, we talked about some of these potential wrinkles, including the potential further changes in and around means-testing, which we did not have time to wrestle with but which we just flagged up for the Government. I will not go into the details but just the headlines. Under “Consistent treatment of housing assets”, we noted the way they are treated differently across the social care means test in terms of domiciliary and residential care—they are not treated on the same basis. There is also the issue of whether the means-test taper actually disincentivises savings and the issue of consistency between the way people in residential and nursing care, where it is not continuing care, have to meet general living costs but do not have to meet them where it is continuing care. We know that there are already some potential anomalies in the way that the new architecture will interact with some of those areas. We flagged that up in the report.
My noble friend has argued for some kind of independent advisory committee. He may not altogether thank me for raising some of these potential further changes but they are issues that have to be wrestled with. The new set of arrangements will throw up their own issues, which will also have to be wrestled with. Some kind of independent advisory committee, looking at the way in which the new scheme has worked and has bedded down, particularly in the area of the means test, would be a valuable contribution. I do not think it is a partisan issue. It would be welcomed across the parties and I hope that the Minister can look a bit more favourably on my noble friend’s amendment.