Last year, when the Dilnot commission made its recommendations on the funding of care and support, I cautiously welcomed some of those recommendations but expressed concern about what Government would actually do with them. Now that we know more about what the Government intends to do, I’m even more concerned.
The Government will set a cap of £75,000 on the amount any individual will have to pay towards their care and support costs. This cap will be lower for people under retirement age but the announcement on 11 February failed to specify how much lower, except to say it would be £0 for anyone with care and support needs before the age of 18.
The Government’s claim is that having a cap will encourage people to plan for their future care and support needs by saving or buying insurance. The £75,000 is more than double the amount recommended by the Dilnot commission, and the amounts people would need to save or pay for insurance premiums will, therefore, be significantly higher, too. Plus, insurance is likely to be extortionately expensive, or impossible to get, for people with progressive conditions or with a family history of certain conditions that lead to high care and support costs.
Even if the cap does encourage people to plan for their future care and support needs, the truth is it isn’t really a cap at all. People in residential care will have to pay £12,000 per year towards living costs, which won’t be counted in the cap. Plus, only care and support costs that local authorities agree to will be counted towards the cap. Any costs beyond that will still have to be met by the individual. Those costs could be very significant. Paying for a communicator-guide, for example, can cost £25-£35 an hour yet my local authority fund less than £14 per hour for this.
Even if we take the lower figure of £25 per hour, a deafblind person may have to make up a shortfall of nearly £60,000 in addition to paying the £75,000 cap.
One positive proposal from the Government is to increase the amount of savings and assets a person can have whilst receiving state funded residential care from £23,250 to £123,000. However, the announcement on 11 February fails to change the capital limits for people living in their own homes. We are suppose to save for our pensions, may need to save for expensive disability related equipment or housing costs but how can we if as soon as we get more than £23,250 we’re clobbered with having to pay all our care and support costs? It’s ironic that most of the emphasis of the Government’s announcement is to prevent people having to sell their homes to pay for care yet younger people will have to pay for care rather than save for a deposit for a home.
Most importantly, the Government’s announcement does nothing to deal with the serious under funding of the social care system. Services are being cut and provided on the cheap by often over-worked and under-skilled staff. These reforms will do nothing to change that. They could even make the situation worse. Currently, many people who know that they will have to pay for their care and support do not approach the local authority. In the future, in order to take advantage of the cap, people will have to be assessed, and regularly reviewed, by their local authority from the point they first have care and support needs. This increased demand will put services that are already under immense pressure under even more.
To address the crisis in social care, so much more is needed. To name just a few vital improvements, there needs to be a fairer system of charging for services against income and assets for all age groups, local authorities need to allow for the true cost of specialist services, there needs to be an eligibility framework that recognises the importance of all kinds of needs. The reforms announced on 11 February will do little to help anyone other than a minority of people who develop high care and support needs and who have considerable wealth.
Liz Ball is the Campaigns Involvement Officer at Sense