Healthy changes to the Health and Social Care Bill?

Photo: Pickersgill Reef via Flickr

The Health and Social Care Bill returns to Parliament this week. MPs will have their last chance to debate the Bill on Tuesday and Wednesday during the Bill’s Report Stage and Third Reading before it is sent for scrutiny in the House of Lords.

Despite the changes the Government made to the legislation after the public consultation earlier this year, the Bill remains controversial with some groups of medical professionals and the Labour Party accusing the Government of privatisation and further fragmentation of the NHS.

The number of people aged 65 and over is expected to rise by 65% in the next 25 years to almost 16.4 million. The population is also living longer with the number of people aged over 85 expected to treble within 30 years. As life expectancy increases, so does the likelihood of more years spent in ill health, with women aged 65 having on average 8.7 years and men 7.7 years of poor health at the end of their lives. And yet, too many older people in the UK experience poor practice and ageist attitudes when it comes to care which can put their health at risk.  Age UK is therefore supportive of the Bill’s aims to bring decision making about treatment and services closer to patients, and to better involve patients in decisions about their care. We agree with the Bill’s central principle which calls for ‘no decision about me, without me.’ However, we are continuing to lobby the Government for improvements to the Bill to ensure the NHS is able to meet the needs of our growing ageing population.

We are asking the new NHS commissioning board to instigate a fundamental review of how the NHS and local authorities assess, prioritise and commission services to meet the needs of an ageing population to make sure NHS structures, particularly the new commissioning bodies understand and know how to meet the needs of older people across the UK. Older people often struggle to access the basic care they need as the NHS continues to under-commission essential preventative services such as falls prevention, continence care and audiology. These types of services make a huge contribution to keeping older people well, independent in their own homes and helping to maintain a decent quality of life.

There is clear evidence that it is never too late to improve health and well-being if people are given the right access to information, support and services. We are also calling for changes to the Bill to improve the regulation of care homes to try and prevent a repeat of the recent crisis which saw the collapse of the Southern Cross network of care homes.

Not Enough Time: The Pensions Bill’s impact on women

This post originally appeared on Left Foot Forward.

Yesterday’s debate on the Pensions Bill was an opportunity for MPs of all parties to raise concerns about the numbers of women affected by the proposals to speed up the increase in the State Pension Age to 66. While the Bill was voted through its Second Reading stage, last night saw some concessions from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on supporting those most affected by the Bill’s provisions.

The current Pensions Bill proposes to increase the speed at which women’s pension age rises to 65 to equalise with men’s, a process that is currently in train, and then to bring forward the start of the rise from 65 to 66 for both men and women from 2024 under current legislation to 2018. As such, the proposals impact on nearly 5 million people across the country.

Age UK’s campaign, and those of other organisations, has emphasised the impact on women in particular of this change; while the new proposals will mean that no man will have to wait more than a year longer for his State Pension, half a million women will face at least a 12-month wait. 330,000 women will have to wait for 18 months, while the worst-affected 33,000 will have to wait for a full 2 years longer than originally promised.

Government arguments have centred on the idea that encouraging women to work for longer before receiving their State Pensions means that they can save more for retirement, making them better off. While true for some women, this simplistic assumption ignores the many women who are not able to work to 66. Our new report, Not Enough Time, finds that significant numbers of women in the age-group affected by these changes cannot work due to caring responsibilities for parents or grandchildren, health issues or unemployment.  Some have already retired, relying on small private pensions and savings to tide them over until they reach State Pension Age – savings that will not spread over an additional two years. Continue reading “Not Enough Time: The Pensions Bill’s impact on women”

Ageism in Europe – new report

On Tuesday, I attended the launch of ‘Ageism In Europe’, a report Age UK commissioned that analyses European Social Survey to shed a light on ageism and stimulate the policy debate. The survey sought the views of 55,000 people across 28 European Countries.

While gender and race have been headline equality issues in Europe, ageism is becoming an important issue for the 21st century. Ageism is now the most widely experienced form of discrimination in Europe. 44% of the people we aked perceive age discrimination as ‘quite serious’ or ‘very serious’, while 35% report unfair treatment on the grounds of age. Over half of people are worried that employers prefer people in their 20s to older workers.

In practically all developed countries, life expectancy is increasing, fertility is decreasing, and working lives must be longer if pension promises are to be sustainable. These trends have significant implications for many aspects of modern life: the labour market, workplace technologies, consumer behaviour, social security systems, national health arrangements, and economic growth as a whole.

This demographic challenge is high on the agenda of Europe’s policy-makers, at EU and national level. The latest figures from the European Union’s Statistical Office show there are now 87 million Europeans aged 65 and over. In the past 12 months, important EU policy debates have been launched around ageing, including a Green Paper on the future of European pensions, EU 2020 employment targets up to age 64, and a European Innovation Partnership for active healthy ageing. The year 2012 has been designated the European Year of Active Ageing (EY2012), which will engage the 27 EU Member States in promoting active ageing in employment and community life, healthy ageing and independent living. The European Parliament also recently launched a debate on the consequences of demographic change for the future of EU Cohesion Policy.

Our briefing summarises key findings from the study for a European audience. It presents policy recommendations to EU and national decision-makers, concerning employment, active ageing, equal treatment and intergenerational solidarity. We hope the briefing will prove a useful input to the 2012 European Year for Active Ageing, and support the work of AGE Platform Europe in promoting active ageing and intergenerational solidarity.

Doing better for social care users

The inadequacy of current social care provision has been a hot topic in the media and Parliament this week. The appalling abuse of residents in Winterbourne Care Home, as uncovered by Panorama, and concerns about Southern Cross’ 750 care homes have provoked anger and anxiety. As such, Stephen Lloyd MP’s adjournment debate on Tuesday night on care services for older people was well-timed.

Mr Lloyd, as Secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ageing and Older People, highlighted in Parliament the growing age profile of our population and the need to reform the social care system now. He highlighted in particular the needs of older people suffering from dementia, their families and carers. In support, Penny Mordaunt MP stated that in her constituency of Portsmouth alone, there are 1,000 people with dementia who have no access to services whatsoever.

The debate provided many questions, but few answers. The consensus was clear that the care system needs to change. Stephen Lloyd challenged the Government to provide a minimum level of care and support to everyone for free. He argued that access to early intervention services for those with dementia would improve the lives of those suffering from the condition and would make economic sense by delaying progress of the disease. He raised the importance of respite care for families coping with a loved one with dementia and called for a guarantee of good-quality care.

But we heard little from the Minister responding (Paul Burstow MP, Minister for Care Services) about concrete proposals for reform – he, like everyone else, is waiting for the proposals of the Dilnot Commission. Dilnot’s Commission on Funding of Care and Support is due to report at the beginning of next month, and we expect that legislation based on the Commission’s proposals and those of the Law Commission on reform of social care law will be a high priority for the Government in the next parliamentary session. In the meantime, the Minister last night did not comment on Stephen Lloyd’s proposals about social care funding, saying only that “there is no perfect solution… but we need to strive to reach a settlement that requires trade-offs but also secures the necessary change and sustainability of a system for the future.”

What Tuesday’s debate did do, was to raise in Parliament the real, human impact of care services on the lives of older people. Several MPs spoke with passion about the numbers in their constituency who were not receiving support, while Stephen Lloyd talked about the impact of dementia on his own family. Social care funding is not just a policy problem to be solved; it has a huge impact on the dignity and quality of life of millions of older people in the UK and their families. When the Government legislates to reform social care, Age UK will be making sure that their voices are heard.

Social care at breaking point

This post originally appeared on Left Foot Forward.

The past few months have been full of speculation about dissent and division between the Coalition partners; on AV, on pensions and most recently on health. Yesterday Age UK, as part of an alliance of health charities and think-tanks, wrote to all three main party leaders calling on them to put aside their political differences and work together to reform social care.

It’s clear that the social care system in England is at breaking point and badly in need of reform. Earlier this week, Age UK launched our ‘Care in Crisis’ report, which outlines the flaws in the current care system. The system simply isn’t meeting people’s needs; in England, of the 2 million older people with care needs, over 800,000 currently receive no support whatsoever from either public or private sector agencies.  Funding has increased only incrementally (0.1% per year in real terms since 2004), while local authority budget cuts mean that spending on older people’s care is due to plummet by £300 million over the next four years. There are massive variations in the quality and quantity of care between different local authorities, and older service users receive less funding on average than younger ones. The system is failing to meet people’s basic needs and desperately needs to change.

There were opportunities to reform the social care system during Labour’s time in Government which weren’t adequately seized. The Royal Commission on Long-Term Care, established six months into Blair’s first term and reporting in 1999, made a series of recommendations on care reform, including paying for personal care through general taxation according to need, establishing a National Care Commission to set benchmarks, monitor longitudinal trends and represent the interests of consumers, a national carer support package and a more transparent grant and expenditure allocation system. The majority of the Commission’s recommendations were never implemented. Subsequent reform attempts were too little, too late. The Personal Care at Home Act was passed last April in ‘wash-up’ before the General Election, but relies on a commencement order to take effect. The Coalition Government announced in November last year that it would not be commencing the Act – a symptom of the failure to achieve broad political consensus on the need for reform.

But change is on its way. Last month saw the publication of the Law Commission’s review of adult social care law, which is proposing some significant changes to the legal entitlements and responsibilities accompanying social care provision. Under the proposals, there would be a national framework for eligibility, which would stipulate basic minimum entitlements to services. Care users would be able to use direct payments to purchase residential care. There would be clear legislation on the role of social services in leading and coordinating the safeguarding of vulnerable adults, a topic which is currently left to guidance. There would also be more support for carers; local authorities would have a duty to assess carers’ needs, and also a duty (rather than a power at present) to meet them. Continue reading “Social care at breaking point”

State Pension Age changes will penalise women

The House of Lords is sometimes seen as old-fashioned and anachronistic, but last week it debated an issue affecting nearly five million people. The Pensions Bill, which has just received its Second Reading in the Lords, does two things relating to the State Pension Age. Firstly, it speeds up the equalisation between men’s and women’s state pension ages at 65. Secondly, it brings forward the date when the State Pension Age would start to rise from 65 to 66, from 2024 under current legislation, to 2018.

Photo: Rogue Soul via Creative Commons

We understand that there’s a need to increase the State Pension Age as people live longer on average. But these proposals will force millions to delay their retirement and also give them barely any time to make the necessary financial provisions. 330,000 women will see their State Pension Age rise by 18 months, and the 30,000 unlucky enough to be born between 6 March and 5 April 1954 will have to wait a full two years extra before receiving their state pensions – with less than ten years’ notice.

Many of the women affected by these changes will have spent most of their working lives expecting to receive their state pensions at 60 and will have planned accordingly. They have already seen their state pension age rise once, but with the countdown to retirement already underway, they face the prospect of further delays. Most people would agree that the state pension age should be the same for men and women, but the speed of adjustment under the new proposals is just too quick. The Government should also recognise that women face greater barriers in building up both state and private pensions, for reasons such as time spent caring and lower earnings during their working lives. Continue reading “State Pension Age changes will penalise women”

How will the Pensions Bill affect you?

The House of Lords has been in the news more than usual recently, as the marathon sittings on the Parliamentary Voting and Constituencies Bill attracted coverage and debate. The ritual and procedures of the House of Lords can sometimes look archaic and out-of-touch, but one bill currently in the queue for debate will have very real consequences for many women in the UK.

The Pensions Bill received its first reading a few weeks ago. One of its key proposals is about speeding up the rise in the women’s State Pension Age. Women’s pension age is already rising under current legislation – it is due to equalise with men at 65 and then increase to 66, along with men, between 2024 and 2026. The Directgov State Pension Age calculator can tell you when you’ll reach State Pension Age under the current system. Continue reading “How will the Pensions Bill affect you?”