This post was contributed by Angela Kitching, joint Head of Public Affairs, at Age UK.
‘A spending review for pensioners’ seems to be the reaction of many in the twittersphere, following George Osborne’s statement. Certainly, the Government’s ongoing commitment to the triple lock, up rating pensions by earnings, prices or 2.5%, is very welcome ongoing commitment. A decent state pension is vital to many older people who rely on the state as their sole source of income in later life and it sets a foundation for a decent retirement income.
But if we restrict our view to incomes alone, we are missing the bigger picture. Older people, as any council funding chief or hospital manager will tell you, are significant users of public services. Adult social care budgets are under enormous pressure as it stands. Over 1 million people aged over-65 do not receive the social care support they need and are coping with no help. These needs include help with basic activities such as going to the toilet or getting dressed.
The announcement that councils will have the power to raise council tax by up to 2% to fund social care comes nowhere near filling the gap in funding; at most – in the unlikely event of all councils implementing the maximum tax hike – estimates suggest it could raise £2bn by 2020. Social care in many areas of the country is at the point of collapse due to unsustainable funding cuts and rising demand. The Chancellor may be encouraging councils to fill the bathtub, but cuts made to local government have already pulled out the plug.
Moving responsibility for social care fund-raising to local councils is a big shift. Increasingly, the Government is no longer acting as guarantor for older people’s care. Older people who need care now should not see their services removed, or all financial risk and risk to their independence passed to them alone, whilst the arms of government debate who should underwrite the cost of care.
Finally, the NHS received welcome news in the spending review of frontloaded funding to help it to deliver the 5 Year Forward View. The Government also announced more money for integration between health and social care in the form of £1.5bn for the Better Care Fund. And the value of the Disabled Facilities Grant is to be doubled by 2020. But for people who need care services today, the Chancellor’s statement will have an uncertain impact: you may be increasingly on your own.
On Monday, a group of Age UK campaigners and older carers braved the cold to present over 53,400 ‘Don’t Cut Care signatures to the Chancellor of the Exchequer at No. 11 Downing Street. A huge thank you to everyone who signed, distributed and collected these signatures.
The campaign doesn’t end here though, and we will bring you news in the next few weeks of the next stage of our campaign and how you can get involved.