This blog was contributed by Ceri Smith, Campaigns Manager, at Age UK.
As we age, many of us will develop long-term illnesses and disabilities and very often this means a higher price tag for day-to-day things that can help us to remain healthy and independent. Attendance Allowance is a nationally administered, non means-tested, weekly payment that helps older disabled people meet some of the extra costs they face. Attendance Allowance is one part of our care system that actually works well, supporting people and helping them to manage and maintain their independence.
However, this time last year, the Government announced that it was considering transferring responsibility for Attendance Allowance to councils as part of the deal allowing them to retain 100% of the Business Rates they collect locally.
At Age UK we were very concerned about what this would mean for the future of the benefit. We were worried that it risked creating a postcode lottery of support and had the potential to leave thousands of disabled older people to struggle by with no help at all. This is because in its current form the Government funding for the Allowance is not capped whereas had it been transferred to councils it would have been up to them to add to it as demand increased – which given how hard pressed financially councils are they might not be able to do. For this reason some commentators branded the Government’s proposal ‘a stealth cut’.
We worked locally with our Age UK partners across the country to survey hundreds of older disabled people who currently claim Attendance Allowance, asking for their views on how the benefit makes a difference to their lives now and their thoughts on the Government’s proposal to transfer it to councils in future. This helped us to illustrate the importance of Attendance Allowance in its current form, and formed part of a short report – “The Choice is Mine”. Typically people told us they use the benefit to pay for practical help at home or for transport to hospital appointments.
Nationally, we worked with organisations who were also concerned about the proposals, such as the Local Government Association (LGA), Carers UK, housing and care groups, and health and disability charities. Our campaigners emailed MPs in their thousands asking them to consider the very real problems with this plan.
So we are delighted that the Government has listened to these concerns. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP, announced at an event with the LGA on 19 January 2017 that Attendance Allowance will not now be included in the Business Rates reforms. We believe this is the right decision for older people and their carers and we are incredibly grateful to everyone who added their support to our appeal to Ministers to think again.
You can find out more about this and our other campaigns at www.ageuk.org.uk/campaigns