We have repeatedly called for improvements to the pensions system and for urgent changes to the shambles that passes for our system of social care and today in the Queen’s Speech two of our proverbial buses arrived at once. The speech contained two pieces of landmark legislation: A Bill to simplify the legislative framework and funding of social care, and a Bill introducing a flat rate State Pension. Both these measures are very much welcomed by Age UK.
Improving the care and support system in England is long overdue. The complexity of the legal framework, the raft of regulations to plug gaps and the confusion many people experience when trying to navigate the existing care system tells us that care and support need reform. The Care Bill is a vital part of the changes that are necessary. However the current and future funding of adult social care is likely to be the elephant in the room throughout the progress of this Bill. Social care funding has declined by £710 million in real terms since the Government came to power in 2010. This is at the same time as the population of over 85, who are most likely to need social care, continues to rise. Budgets are falling while demand is rising.
The Care Bill offers an ambitious and positive vision for the future of social care in which the system guarantees an individual’s wellbeing and protects them from unreasonable costs. But in the current funding climate this vision cannot be realised. The Government must address this shortfall in funding or they will undermine public confidence in the care system.
Age UK has also welcomed proposals for the single-tier pension which aim to introduce a fairer, simpler and sustainable state pension. An adequate state pension is critical to provide individuals who have limited ability to make any private provision with a decent income in retirement and to enable everyone to have certainty and clarity about what to expect from the state in retirement as a platform for saving.
The single-tier pension is not a solution to retirement saving in itself but will complement the recent introduction of automatic enrolment into a workplace pension including the National Employment Savings Trust (NEST). Together these reforms should ensure that people can achieve an adequate income in later life and make it easier to plan for retirement during their working life.
This does not mean that pensions provision is no longer in the spotlight. The amount proposed for the new single tier pension is just one per cent higher than the current amount that pensioners receive in Pension Credit. There are also a number of areas where we would like the government to clearly outline their intent on the face of the bill and where we feel more could be done to ensure particular groups of individuals are not penalised by the changes. We remain concerned that this bill does nothing for current pensioners including the 1.7 million who currently live in poverty who will not benefit from the changes in this legislation.