Older people featured rather significantly in the public spending review to 2015/16. The Chancellor talked quite forcefully about the need to address the problems in social care, and in his consideration of welfare spending, he firmly identified state pensions as remaining outside his proposed new ‘cap’.
The landscape for the next Government is coming into view, but what does it mean for older people beyond the rhetoric? By 2016, of course, we should be implementing the legislation currently being debated in Parliament and have in place a new single tier state pension and a new social care regime – funded in part by the ideas proposed by Andrew Dilnot. The spending plans suggest that more money will be diverted from NHS budgets into programmes jointly commissioned with social care. If this means more integrated care and a more ‘whole person’ approach, it will be welcome. But before we get there, local government will have taken another severe cut in its budget, and there is speculation that social care support may be prioritised only for those with critical needs. This means we will remain far away from the ambition to provide the appropriate care which promotes independence and prevents people from becoming substantially or critically in need of care.
Capping benefit spending is a concept fairly new in the UK: elsewhere, in Sweden and the Netherlands for example, there are ‘automatic stabilisers’ which mean that pension payments can go up or down depending on the performance of the economy. The Chancellor has explicitly ruled out bringing the state pension under his cap – reflecting the view that it is an earned entitlement and not simply a welfare benefit – but just as explicitly has ruled everything else in. So benefits such as the Winter Fuel Payment and indeed Pension Credit could be affected. The first cap will be determined (on the advice of the Office of Budgetary Responsibility) in the Budget of 2015, and thus the Prime Minister’s pledge to protect all pensioner benefits for the lifetime of this Parliament remains in place.
There was a lot of interesting detail in the statement about infrastructure investment (at last), which might help to inject growth into the economy. But the politics of the spending review and the next Government’s agenda is clearly going to focus on care and welfare. And it remains unknown how cross UK pensioners living in hot countries will be when the Government has figured out how to apply a temperature test to the Winter Fuel Payment.