No news is not always good news

The Chancellor delivered his third Autumn Statement today. He tried to strike a tone of cautious optimism over recent economic data suggesting the end of the recession and rising employment. Underneath this, however, there were more cuts as Government struggles to eliminate the structural deficit as it has prioritised.

Yet again the biggest omission from the Chancellor’s statement was any plan to help resolve the crisis in social care. We welcome the continued protection for the NHS budget but unless funding for social care is urgently addressed then the knock on costs to the NHS will continue to grow. The announcement of a further two per cent cut to council budgets in two years’ time is likely to exacerbate this if it leads to further reductions to frontline care and support services that are often already stripped to the bone.

Allowing the social care system to limp along, leaving too many older people isolated and afraid of what tomorrow might bring, is not only morally questionable but makes no financial sense. Reform of care funding would be a worthy legacy for any Government, it remains a scandal that 18 months after Andrew Dilnot published his report, it remains unresolved.

There was some good news to embrace. The Government maintained its commitment to protect Universal Benefits for older people. They have also stuck to their ‘triple-lock’, which will ensure that the basic state pension will rise by 2.5% next year. With 1.7 million older people living below the poverty line and a further 1.1million on the edge of poverty, this is to be welcomed.

Other areas remained notable only by their omission, however. We continue to await the detail of how Government will implement its long trailed single tier pension, despite its commitment to delivering this on a cost neutral basis. It is now 2 years since Age UK welcomed the principle of this idea. It is time we knew how it will work in practice.

The Government must also take care to ensure that its move to lower tax relief thresholds for higher earning pension savers does not undermine its efforts to increase the number of people preparing for later life through auto-enrolment and the other policy changes it has introduced. There need to be fairer tax incentives and better communication from Government to encourage people on modest incomes to save for a pension.

In reality, the Autumn Statement was mostly a damp squib for older people, but the announcement by the Chancellor that the next Spending Review will start in the first half of next year was welcome. Delivering the money needed for care reform as part of this should be its top priority. It will be ours.

Find out more about Age UK’s Care in Crisis campaign

Read our full Autumn Statement 2012 briefing

2 responses to “No news is not always good news

  1. Now that the age for some benefits, like Pension Credit Guarantee, is increasing with the increase in women’s pension age, there will be a number of people on benefits, or eligible for benefits, will be hard pressed under these changes. It is really galling that people on benefits are being made to suffer because of the irresponsible actions of bankers, most of whom have not been adequately punished and have almost been rewarded for their wrong-doings.

  2. I read this article with interest – but would like to draw attention to the fact that there are other areas of challenged budgets also. An example which I believe is relevant is access to the Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG) to enable the adaptation of a property to improve access in / around and to essential facilities. The level of funding was identified in February 2011 to be insufficient to meet need within research completed by the Building Research Establishment. This estimated the total sum needed to provide grant aid for all those theoretically eligible under the rules at the time of the study was £1.9bn (at 2005 prices). However, the total amount of DFG funding allocated in England 2009 -10 was £157m. To add to this there was a change in funding in 2008 where local authorities were no longer obliged to match funding offered via 60 :40 split, and from 2010 / 11 funding was paid to local authorities as an un-ringfenced sum.

    The challenges are many – and as always, some are more evident than others. I believe that access to this funding though, is, for many, life changing and essential to enable a good quality of life as well as enabling independence rather than forcing dependence on others through environmental barriers.

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