Following statements from the Chancellor prior to the budget, it seemed that older people were due to benefit from significant changes to the future funding structures of social care and pensions. However, following the Chancellor’s statement there is little new to celebrate.
The main point of interest for pensioners was confirmation that the implementation of the cap on social care costs (the ‘Dilnot’ reforms) and the introduction of the single-tier state pension will both be brought forward to 2016-17. From April 2016, there will be a cap of £72,000 on the costs of care, and the upper threshold limit for the residential care means test will be increased to £118,000.
Whilst we welcome the earlier implementation of the care costs cap and the higher upper means test threshold from April 2016, this will do nothing to help the 800,000 older people who need help with everyday tasks but receive no formal state support. Since 2010/11, in real terms £700 million has been cut from local authority spending on social care. Although the Government has provided additional investment for social care over the course of this parliament, it has not been enough to halt the downwards spiral in care funding. As a result, 85 per cent of local authorities now provide care only to people with substantial or critical needs.
The future of social care is one of the most important issues facing the country. All too often the NHS and families are left to pick up the pieces when older people fail in their struggle to cope alone, which makes no moral or financial sense.
The Chancellor also confirmed that the Government will bring forward implementation of the single-tier state pension to 2016-17 (it will not affect current pensioners). When the single tier pension is fully introduced the current basic and additional pensions will be replaced by a single pension worth around £144 a week in today’s prices.
While Age UK supports the aims of state pension reform, the Government offered no proposals to improve pensions for current pensioners or to reduce pensioner poverty which currently stands at 1.7 million. Older people who are drivers, particularly in rural areas, will be relieved that the 1.89 pence per litre fuel duty increase that was due to take effect on 1 September 2013 has been cancelled. However, in spite of a raft of energy announcements, the one Age UK was looking for – significant investment to improve the energy efficiency of Britain’s housing stock and cut the thousands of deaths each year from cold – was missing.