The decision to delay, and possibly abandon, implementation of the lifetime cap on spending on care, is a retreat from a commitment that the Government made in its manifesto for the last Election. As a result, the risk of endlessly spiralling care bills remains and for as long as no cap is in place older people with assets will justifiably worry that they could be ‘wiped out’ financially if they are unlucky enough to need long term care. It is very disappointing that after all the efforts of the Dilnot Commission to come up with a solution so that older people could have peace of mind, this problem remains.
It should not be overlooked that the Government’s announcement also delays the implementation of two other important commitments.
First, although the Government’s decision not to implement the lifetime spending cap received the most attention, a second decision announced at the same time will actually adversely affect more people. It was that they would not be raising to £118,000 the maximum level of assets that are taken into account in deciding whether people must pay for their own care, as originally planned.
In addition, the Government has also delayed implementing a right for care home residents who pay for themselves to request that the local authority arranges their care for them. Had this provision gone ahead it would have been advantageous to these older people as they would have been able to obtain a care home place at the lower fee rates which local authorities usually pay. There were worries though that this could have destabilised the already fragile finances of some care providers.
When the Dilnot Commission was set up by the Coalition Government in 2010 the system of social care in this country was under significant strain but still basically functional. The time was right, it was felt, to try to tackle the thorny problem of spiralling care costs once and for all.
Five years later the position is very different: in the interim a lot of money has come out of social care budgets due to public spending cuts and as a consequence the system is now effectively on its knees. Age UK estimates that today, a million older people in England have a social care need but do not receive a service and there are big worries too about the quality of care on offer and the sustainability of many care providers.
There’s no doubt therefore that social care is experiencing a true crisis and as a growing older population means growing demand for social care its one that is likely to get worse – unless more funding is urgently found.
Age UK is well aware of the need for a care cap but we supported the Government’s decision to delay implementation of the one it had planned for next year, and we did so for two main reasons. First and foremost because we believe that if there’s any public money available to invest in social care it should go into shoring up the current system in order to prevent a total collapse.
This view is however predicated on the understanding that the savings from not pressing ahead with a cap will still be used to fund social care, just in a different way.
Our stance is also influenced by the proximity of the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR), which will decide Government spending over the next 3 years and which will be completed in November. The Government’s announcement means effectively that the long term spending cap will not be considered as part of the CSR but other care funding issues will. Age UK will therefore do everything it can to persuade the Government to direct the savings from not implementing the Dilnot cap into supporting the social care system more generally.
A lesser but still important reason why Age UK supported the Government’s decision is because they wanted to set the cap at a level – £72K – which seemed unduly ‘mean’, albeit perhaps understandable at a time of acute austerity. Relatively few older people would have benefited at that level and there was also all kinds of small print which meant that in the end, the cap wasn’t going to be as good a deal as we’d all hoped.
The fact is that we do need a proper care cap on this country – but we need a decent, sustainable social care system even more. Achieving this is Age UK’s top priority from the CSR and it ought to be a top priority for the Government too.