The cost of caring

Becky Moles

The ‘cost of living’ is a phrase that we have heard Ed Miliband use time and time again over the last few weeks. In England, there are 380,000 people in residential care, 65 per cent of whom are state-supported. There are also a further 1.1 million people receiving care at home, 80 per cent of whom are state supported.

For elderly people or those in need of extra help with everyday life, the cost of social care is inextricably linked to the ‘cost of living’. After much political to-ing and fro-ing, where are the parties at now on the funding of social care in England?

The Care Bill, which was introduced in the House of Lords in May will next be at Second Reading stage in the House of Commons, with the date still to be confirmed. It will establish a new legal framework, marking ‘the biggest transformation to care and support law in over sixty years’.

The consultation, ‘Caring for our Future’, which was launched in July by Care Minister, Norman Lamb, will inform the development of policy in the Care Bill as well as its regulations and guidance.

The aim of the bill is to protect people from excessive costs and “make them feel more in control of their lives”, with a cap being introduced on the costs that people must pay to meet their eligible needs. This will be set at £72,000 from April 2016.

‘Caring for our future’ highlighted that 30,000-40,000 people requiring residential care each year will have to sell their home to pay for it. Undoubtedly, this can be a big upheaval and may cause a great amount of stress and concern.

The consultation, which ended last week, sought views on practical implementation of the funding system to inform the development of policy for the Care Bill. Specifically, the inquiry asked for views on: how the capped cost system should work, how the deferred payments should be administered, and how support could be given for people to make informed choices about their care.

The paper states that ‘people who do not wish to sell their property to pay for resident care will have the option of a deferred payment agreement’.

The idea of the ‘universal deferred payment’ scheme is criticised perhaps because it is not as universal as it first seems. To qualify for a deferred payment, a person must firstly be assessed by their local authority as to whether or not they will benefit from residential care. Secondly, a person must have less than £23,250 in assets – excluding their home, and thirdly, their home may not be occupied by a spouse or dependent relative.

All three of these conditions would have to be met in order for someone to qualify for a ‘universal deferred payment’. Critics have said that if the assessment of residential care benefit is being assessed by local authorities, then it will be judged differently according to the standards of the individual authority. Furthermore, people would have to run their savings down to under £23,500 in order to be eligible, and in the words of Lord Lipsey, “£23,250 hardly pays for a daily delivery of the Racing Post for the rest of their lives….”

In tough economic times, it is perhaps only realistic that strict conditions must be met. Additionally, any debate over the classification of the scheme as ‘universal’ can simply be met with an argument that the scheme is replacing an already existing deferred payments scheme, which is much more of a postcode lottery, only existing within some authorities. At least this would force all local authorities to run the scheme in some shape or form.

So what are the Labour Party proposing for the future funding of social care? There have been whispers of a re-hashing of an old social funding policy from Gordon Brown’s era as Prime Minister.

Andy Burnham, Shadow Health Secretary, has said that the party has roused proposals to charge a levy on the value of estates after death. Critics termed this ‘the death tax’, and this was dropped before the 2010 elections after an onslaught of criticism.

Mr Burnham, who over the last few months has been emphasising the future of ‘integrated care,’ states that this policy could bring social care into line with the NHS – making care homes free at the point of use. But, it is said that Miliband quickly rebuked Mr Burnham after his comments, stating that this was “not Labour policy”.

The care sector will now be watching with interest to see what suggestions come through from the consultation, and whether these are heeded by the Government, and ‘officially’ responded to by the opposition.

A version of this article originally appeared on CareHome.co.uk, and can be found online here.

Share this article