Free Personal Care: Is it the solution to the social care crisis?

One person is being supported to have her cup of tea given to her.

In a recent report the Government was yet again criticised for failing to find a long term funding solution for the social care system. As we head towards the summer, and a 6 week break for Parliament, there are a lot of ideas being discussed. One of the top proposals for solving the social care crisis is Free Personal Care, but what does it mean, and how would it affect the people Sense supports?  

What is Personal Care?

Many disabled people require support to complete daily activities. Personal Care usually refers to the physical care needs of the individual and includes washing, dressing, assistance with going to the toilet, and feeding.

Sense research found that currently 1.7 million disabled people are relying on family and friends to meet these kind of needs.

Isn’t care for older and disabled people already free?

It is often a shock to many people to learn that in England and Wales social care support, like a home carer to help someone go to the toilet, is not free at point of use like the NHS.

If an individual needs care and support in their own home, and they have more than £14,250 in savings, non-property assets or benefits they have to contribute to the cost of their care. If they have over £23,250 in savings, non-property assets, or benefits, they are not entitled to any state funded support and so they have to pay for their own care, regardless of how much care and support they need.

In Scotland, free personal care has been available to older people who meet the eligibility criteria since 2002. The Government covers the costs of supporting with physical daily tasks in the home, like washing or eating, and for older people in residential homes part of the costs of care are covered by this funding. However, free personal care has only just become available for working age disable people in April this year.

Is Free Personal Care the right solution?

Of course, free personal care would make a significant difference to the lives of many older and working aged disabled people and take pressure off family carers. However, there are a few concerns about this proposal.

Firstly, like in Scotland, free personal care might only be made available to older people, with many working age disabled people still having to pay for a life time of care costs. Too often in discussions about social care in the media and amongst politicians the focus is only on older people. We need a long term solution that works for everyone.

It’s also important to remember that great social care is more than just meeting physical support needs. Social care is also about the support needed to combat loneliness, access the community or employment, and develop independent living skills. There is a risk that free personal care could create a hierarchy of needs, which places personal care above other kinds of care. It is essential that we don’t lose the kind of care and support that prevents crises occurring and more critical needs developing.   

According to a recent report, the advantage of free personal care is that it’s a simple system, especially when compared to the existing confusing process of financial assessments versus needs and eligibility criteria. It would also be popular with the millions of older and disabled people who currently do not receive support, but of course free personal care isn’t totally free, there are costs involved.

According to the King’s Fund the cost of expanding free personal care to England would cost £7bn in 2020/21 and £14bn in 2030/31, and this would be in addition to the £7.7bn needed to plug the current funding gap to deliver business as usual.

For the people Sense supports and their families, free personal care would be the first step towards tackling the social care crisis. However, it is important that we have a social care system that ensures people with complex disabilities get the all of the right care and support, not just the basics, so that they can lead fulfilling independent lives.

What next?

Free personal care is one of many potential long term solutions for the social care system. There is no guarantee the Government will accept the recommendations of the recent report. In the meantime, we are still waiting for a solution.

The government has repeatedly delayed the Social Care Green Paper, and therefore frustrated the process of finding a long term solution for social care. Meanwhile more reports are published, Local Authorities make desperate pleas for additional funding, and more disabled people and their families are pushed to breaking point.  

We need a solution that plugs that immediate funding gap but also a future plan to meet the care and support needs of disabled people and their families. Hopefully, the next Government will make social care a top priority.


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