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Budget 2017: It’s time for the Government to show they care about care

Independent Age

5 min read

The practice of lurching from crisis to crisis and using Budgets to sanction one-off cash injections must now come to an end, says Independent Age. 

In 1942, the Budget that Churchill’s wartime government introduced was one of belt-tightening. Then-Chancellor Sir Kingsley Wood, introduced new taxes on tobacco, beer and cinema tickets. Anyone born that year would now be turning 75, and likely wondering whether this year’s Autumn Budget will see them having to tighten their belts once again. With almost two million older people in the UK living in poverty, and almost 1.2 million in England not receiving all the care that they need, it is clear that meeting the demands of an ageing population will be one of Philip Hammond’s greatest challenges next week.

As a national older people’s charity, Independent Age hears every day from people with concerns and questions about what having or developing care needs might mean, how they might pay for their care and whether they will get the support they need in later life. Earlier this year, our research showed that in some Local Authorities, such as many of those in the North West, almost half of all care homes were rated ‘Inadequate’ or ‘Requires Improvement’. For countless older people living in these areas, this could mean the only choice they have will be between care homes that are not up to scratch.

And whilst the quality of residential care can sometimes leave much to be desired, the cost of accessing it at all is often exorbitant for the many people who have to pay for their own care. With the average care home costing around £30,000 a year, older people with higher levels of need or above-average lengths of stay can find that their assets are rapidly diminished and that they end up paying costs into the hundreds of thousands of pounds. That’s why we released our report, ‘Will the Cap Fit?earlier this month, setting out how the Government can protect older people and their families from catastrophic care costs.

While a £35,000 cap on care costs as recommended by Andrew Dilnot’s 2011 commission would protect some older people, our report demonstrates that one of the best options to benefit as many older people as possible might be a £100,000 cap that includes all care costs associated with going into care. For most people, this would kick in at around their third year, which is the average life expectancy for someone living in residential care and would see anyone with above-average costs covered.

What is clear from the General Election is that the public is becoming critical of a system where those with higher care costs see their assets diminished without any protection. A cap would not only limit the amount anybody could be expected to pay, but it would also potentially make care insurance products viable, allowing people to cover themselves against even more moderate levels of expenditure.

Although the Chancellor will be juggling competing demands for cash from our public services, for infrastructure projects and to see our economy through the process of leaving the EU, putting off reforms to the systems that older people depend on is no longer an option. Whilst the tough decisions around what people can expect in older age have been ducked by successive governments, with a quarter of us expected to be over the age of 65 by 2030, the time to prepare the UK for the challenges of an ageing population is fast running out.

A quick win for older people in need of care and for the wider sector would be the honouring of the Conservative Party Manifesto pledge to revisit the means-test threshold. Raising that capital threshold to £100,000 would offer a degree of protection to those people who pay for their own care, but still have relatively modest assets and savings.

Today, we are launching a report in partnership with the IPPR, outlining some of the options available to the Chancellor in order to adequately fund the social care system. We found that an increase in the main employer rate of National Insurance of 1% would raise up to £5 billion that could be invested into care. Not only would this address the £2.7 billion funding gap estimated by the Health Foundation to exist by 2020/21, but this would also allow Local Authorities to plan ahead for increased demand on services in the future.  The practice of lurching from crisis to crisis and using Budgets to sanction one-off cash injections must now come to an end.

In their General Election manifesto, the Conservative Party pledged to tackle variation in care quality that leaves so many people facing a postcode lottery, as well as setting out an ambition that no older person should have to sell their home to pay for their care. We’re urging the Government to make good on their promise and to make this, the first ever Autumn Budget, the last one where these issues have to be addressed.

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