At a recent conference for the National Federation of Occupation Pensioners(NFOP) the highlight of event has been grave concerns about the threat to Universal Benefits after the 2015 general election. There are also continued worries about the cost of social care funding, the winter fuel allowance and bus passes, and recommended means testing as a way to ensure that only the most vulnerable receive them. However, history has proved that those most in need are unlikely to claim if benefits are means tested (2.6 million of those eligible do not claim).
The other concerns were Care Funding an existing problem. Despite the recommendations by Andrew Dilnot in his 2011 Government commissioned report, of implementing cap of care cost to the sum of £35,000 the coalition government has announced a £75,000 cap. This cap is for individuals and does not cover hotel cost meaning a couple could be facing care cost of well over £150,000.
Delegates warned that the plans will result in people having to sell their homes as the only way of funding their care while nothing has been said about the desperate need to improve the quality and standards of care that people receive in the community.
The government should instead introduce a National Care Service funded through taxation like the NHS. Under the Bill a flat-rate state pension of around £144 per week will be introduced from April 2016, but this compares poorly with the basic state pension paid way back in 1979, which would be worth around £156 at today’s values.
“The government’s new single-tier state pension is actually going to cost less than the existing system and is really trying to con people into thinking they are going to get a better deal, when the reality is you will have to work longer, pay more and get less when you eventually retire.”
There’s a clear message from the Labour Party’s research into care of the disabled and the elderly and it’s don’t move to Brighton and Hove. One supposes of course that the advice would exclude Labour whip and peer Lord Bassam of Brighton, whose stellar career has taken him from dedicated squatter into the realms of the cushty.
But even the erstwhile Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms (one of the titles he picked up during his socialist career) might quail at the price of care in his adopted home city.
A £21.50 an hour rate for home care might put a bloody great big hole in even his lordship’s income.
So you can imagine what it does to those less fortunate. In fairness to Lord Bassam, it should be pointed out that Labour screwed up Brighton to the extent that Greens now run the council. The increase in home care charges means the average annual cost for 10 hours of home care a week has increased to £7,077 a year in 2012/13 – up more than £680 since 2009/10. Yet the number of elderly people having their home care services fully paid for by their local authority has fallen by 11 per cent over the past two years.
Why, do you suppose, is that? The reason isn’t difficult to find. Local authorities point to the government imposing a 28 per cent funding cut over the next four years which has forced councils into the unpleasant necessity of restricting free care to those who have “substantial” or “critical” needs. Many authorities have now removed the pre-existing caps on how much elderly or disabled people can be required to pay. Against all the available evidence, the government insists there is enough cash available to allow local authorities to pay for elderly care. Care Services Minister Paul Burstow says that the government is working on “cross-party agreement” on social care funding and shadow care minister Liz Kendall insists that Labour is “absolutely committed” to such cross-party agreement.
One can only wonder why the Labour Party believes it possible. Do its policy makers really think it can find common ground with a party that is utterly dedicated to reducing government funding and forcing all such expenditure back onto the individual?
If they do, they are even more naive than we believed was possible. Either that or the One Nation Labour mock-Toryism of the unlamented Blair interregnum has still got such a firm hold on Labour’s policy wonks that they can’t think past it.
It must be evident even to the meanest intellect that such a cross-party agreement can only come into being if Labour disavows any ambitions for equal access to care for rich and poor alike. The Tories certainly aren’t going to suddenly throw their arms wide and welcome the principle of care services free at the point of need. One has to admit, however, that such a policy has never really been widely enough adopted even within the Labour ranks. Means testing has always been an element of social policy in such cases. But the costs and inadequacies of means testing are well enough known to merit a thorough rethink.
Why, after all, have yet another system of clawing back cash from the better off when there’s a perfectly serviceable system of income taxation readily available?
But that brings into the discussion a sensible system of graduated taxation. And that, as we all know, has been something that a Labour Party dedicated to not fighting income inequality has backed away from like a dose of the Black Death, regarding it as a certain vote loser. Well, times are changing and working people simply can’t afford the private insurance against old age that is being mooted in some quarters. Besides which, we thought we had it already with the welfare state.
Campaigners dismissed the government’s feeble overhaul of social care funding unveiled today and demanded a NHS-style national care service. Health Secretary Andrew Lansley pledged in his social care white paper to introduce a national eligibility threshold by 2015 that will outline who can get access to care rather than it being set by an individual council.
He also announced plans to train more care workers with 50,000 apprenticeships created by 2015. The minister made no commitment to cap the amount people pay before the government steps in, although ministers have supported capping costs at £35,000.
Other plans include a deferred payment scheme where local authorities will cover costs of residential care up front to avoid people selling their homes to pay for care. Councils will be able to recover the costs of care from the sale of residents’ estates once they die and their homes are sold. Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham warned that councils are already suffering a funding shortfall and said the white paper was only “half a plan.” Instead the Care Minister says to frail elderly people: ‘You are on your own – use your savings, sell your house and get on with it.’
“We urgently need a national care service paid for by everyone so that we share the cost of care and ensure everyone gets the support they need in later life. For just 75p a day the average taxpayer could help fund a much-needed comprehensive, good-quality care system that treats older people with dignity.
Unison also backed calls for a social care service funded through general taxation.The union’s national officer Helga Pile said: “This white paper does not go far enough to protect the most vulnerable in our society and leaves too many unanswered questions about how the care funding gap will be filled.”The fairest way forward would be to fund social care through general taxation and provide a national care service free at the point of need. Doing so would address the issues of underfunding.”