Spring Budget and UK's older generation: 'It is no longer sufficient to simply lurch from crisis to crisis'
CEO of Independent Age writes for PoliticsHome ahead of the Budget, calling upon the Chancellor to give older people access to the affordable care they need and keep them independent.
In 20 years, almost one in four of us in the UK will be over the age of 65. With more old people working, taking on caring responsibilities and contributing to their communities, this presents real opportunities. However, it is clear that we are not currently meeting all our obligations to older people.
There is even a prevailing view that pensioners, to borrow a phrase from Harold Macmillan, “have never had it so good”. However, for all the focus on the triple lock and how this typifies the generous support pensioners now receive, there are many significant challenges older people face which this Budget needs to address.
For many of the older people we work with, times are in fact very hard and they certainly don’t recognise themselves as belonging to a “privileged” few. Increasingly, older and frail people face difficult choices to pay for and access care and in the worst cases are not receiving any care at all. With older households set to grow most rapidly over the coming decade, it’s also troubling that we see over a quarter of older people living in non-decent housing.
In 2017, it should be unacceptable that 1.6 million older people in the UK are living in poverty, with one million living in fact in severe poverty. Despite the ‘Triple Lock’ on the state pension and the payment of universal benefits, there is still more to be done to ensure that older people, many of whom have worked their entire lives, are lifted out of poverty. The Chancellor could make a start by ensuring the missing 1.4 million families who are entitled to Pension Credit but don’t receive this boost to their income are supported to claim the vital payment.
In hospitals, we are now seeing a record number of delays in discharge where older patients can’t leave, with more of these delays now blamed on a lack of community and home care. More worrying still, 1.2 million older people are not getting the care that they need to help lead a decent quality of life. The Government does now acknowledge that there are pressures in social care and that the crisis is having a profound effect on the health service and on the lives of older people, their families and the people who care for them.
But whilst the Prime Minister has been clear on the need for a long-term settlement for social care, local authorities in England continue to be caught between a rock and a hard place; faced with increasing demand for adult social services, whilst having to operate with serious financial restraint.
Any new funding for social care in this Budget would be welcome, but it is no longer sufficient to simply lurch from crisis to crisis, providing one-off funding settlements for a system that is still not fit for purpose. Even with moves towards full business rate retention and with council tax precepts set to rise, it is clear that many local authorities, particularly those in more rural and more deprived areas will struggle to meet all their basic duties to deliver adult social care. We mustn’t also imagine money alone can instantly fix all the problems older people currently experience transitioning within a very fragmented health and social care system.
Late last year, Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England, urged the Government to think afresh about how to meet the needs of an ageing population. We agree with him that we need to rethink the social contract – not just relying on the ‘triple lock’ on state pensions – but strengthening the covenant with older people, guaranteeing a reliable income of course; but good housing, and crucially the high-quality care older people need and expect as well. It may sound grand but we really do need a new Beveridge-style blueprint – fit for the 21st century – so we can see the UK become a better country in the world to grow older in.
Where the government can make a start of course is on social care. Independent Age is leading calls for a bold solution to the challenges facing local authorities and the older people they serve. Earlier this year, we united over 75 organisations and leading experts behind a call for a cross-party process to find a long-term solution to the current crisis in health and social care funding. Whatever the potential solutions to the problems facing social care, simply hoping these problems resolve themselves is no longer an option. We understand a review is taking place to consider the best way forward to sustain local services but we now need to see the Government, at its last ever Spring Budget, set out much firmer plans so all older people can access and afford the care that will keep them independent.
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