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.