The implementation of a lifetime spending cap on the amount an individual would spend on care was a flagship of the former coalition government’s social care policy, and a manifesto commitment for the present government. However implementation of the spending cap, originally intended for April 2016, has now been delayed until 2020. This means after the next election, so this delay raises considerable doubts about whether the cap will ever be implemented at all.
Age UK supported the proposed spending cap in principle and still does, but as we have said before, the devil is in the detail. For example the Dilnot Commission on long term care funding, which thought up the idea of the cap, originally set the cap at £35,000- £50,000, which was carefully calculated to ensure that the less well off would benefit. This objective was undermined by the government’s decision to raise the cap to £72,000.
Now that details of the scheme have emerged – with draft regulations being published only just before the election – it has become clear that the top priority must be to stop the social care system that millions of older people depend on from collapsing in its entirety.The most urgent priority arises from the current situation where cash strapped local authorities have restricted care to the point where over a million older people who are unable to carry out at least one vital activity of daily living without difficulty (for example using the toilet, getting dressed) receive no care whatsoever.
The new national living wage, combined with an Employment Appeals Tribunal that care workers must be paid for travel between jobs, are very welcome but local authorities are receiving no extra funding to pay for the dramatic increase in care costs that will result. The care system therefore seems threatened with meltdown.
The Local Government Association recently called for the lifetime cap on spending to be delayed till 2017 in order to release funds for a one off injection of funds into social care. In fact the government has delayed the implementation of the cap beyond this, but has made no commitment that the money saved will go into the care system. It is unlikely that there will be any further announcement about whether the savings or indeed any other resources will be put into the care system until after the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review is completed later in the autumn.
For Age UK therefore, the major issue is not the delay in implementing the cap, but ensuring that the £6 billion that the government claims to have saved by this measure is used to prevent the collapse of the care system. If savings are used to ensure that older people who are in desperate need of care receive the help they need then the delay in implementing the spending cap is justifiable, but older people will understandably be asking for assurance that this is the intention.
Meanwhile, there is a continuing need to protect older people from the risk of endlessly spiralling care costs: that problem which the Dilnot Commission was convened to address has not gone away. But if there is to be a cap on costs in future, as Age UK hopes, it must be fit for purpose and it must operate as part of an effective and sustainable system of social care.