Queen announces landmark legislation for older people

We have repeatedly called for improvements to the pensions system and for urgent changes to the shambles that passes for our system of social care and today in the Queen’s Speech two of our proverbial buses arrived at once. The speech contained two pieces of landmark legislation: A Bill to simplify the legislative framework and funding of social care, and a Bill introducing a flat rate State Pension. Both these measures are very much welcomed by Age UK.

440x210_queens_speech_2012_copyright_uk_parliament_flickr_May2012Improving the care and support system in England is long overdue. The complexity of the legal framework, the raft of regulations to plug gaps and the confusion many people experience when trying to navigate the existing care system tells us that care and support need reform. The Care Bill is a vital part of the changes that are necessary. However the current and future funding of adult social care is likely to be the elephant in the room throughout the progress of this Bill. Social care funding has declined by £710 million in real terms since the Government came to power in 2010. This is at the same time as the population of over 85, who are most likely to need social care, continues to rise. Budgets are falling while demand is rising. Continue reading “Queen announces landmark legislation for older people”

Working together to support older people

The Autumn Statement announced bleak growth figures and more cuts ahead, reminding us all, once again, we face hard times and unprecedented and prolonged pressure on public services many of which older people rely.

This is why now, more than ever, we all need –  the government, public, private, and voluntary sectors and individuals – to work together to meet the challenges and maximise the opportunities our growing ageing population presents.

Age UK, together with our national and local partners, is playing its part. In 2012 we reached over 7 million older people with our information and advice services, our handy person service visited nearly 14,000 homes and we helped more than 65,000 older people keep active and healthy through our Fit as a Fiddle programme. In tough economic times we understand supporting people in later life to make informed choices and maximise their wealth, health, independence and wellbeing is important for the individuals and helps drive down inefficient and unnecessary costs in our public services. Continue reading “Working together to support older people”

Party conferences 2012

As this year’s conference season commences, we’re clear about what the Government should be focussing on for older people: A firm commitment to Dilnot and social care reform, and the publication of a white paper and bill to introduce a flat-rate single tier pension.

Care is in crisis with many of those who need help and support in later life being badly let down by a faltering system, while others find themselves having to sell their homes in order to pay for the support they need. Of the 2 million older

Age UK’s party conference stand

people in England with care-related needs nearly 800,000 receive no support of any kind from public or private sector agencies.  At the same time, the legal framework of the social care system is not fit for purpose. There is a range of legislation, case law and guidance leading to a legal maze that fails to give people the support and clarity they need at what is often the most vulnerable times in their lives.

Age UK has therefore very much welcomed the Government’s White Paper and draft Care and Support Bill which were published in July. Together, we believe they have the potential to significantly improve the quality of care available and help create a care system that is fairer and more straightforward for older people and their families. Continue reading “Party conferences 2012”

Worth waiting for? The Draft Care and Support Bill

As the Law Commission first began work on its review of adult social care in 2008 it seems reasonable to describe the new draft Care and Support Bill, based on the Law Commission’s recommendations, as ‘long awaited’.  So has it been worth waiting for?

Throughout its work the Commission was adamant that it did not intend to reduce the rights of older and disabled people who need care and support.  That the Law Commission has largely achieved its aim does in itself deserve praise, not to mention a sigh of relief that essential rights have not been swept away.

The Law Commission’s recommendations were never intended to be revolutionary. The aim of the exercise was primarily to consolidate existing legislation. This meant both bringing together successive acts of Parliament and proposing a new structure for regulations and guidance issued under the new act. Guidance will also be pulled together into a single code of practice, a huge improvement on the current mass of guidance, good practice guidelines, and guidelines produced by third parties.

There are, however, some dramatic and welcome new proposals in the draft bill;

  • A general duty to promote the wellbeing of service users will become the underlying principle used as a basis for interpreting the rest of the legislation;
  • People who do not meet eligibility criteria will still have rights to advice and information;
  • Carers will, for the first time, have the same rights to services following assessment as care service users;
  • There will be a new national framework for eligibility for care and support (the White Paper also promises a new minimum threshold for eligibility by 2015 although this is not in the draft Bill)
  • There will be improved transition arrangements for service users who move from one local authority to another;
  • Legislation to safeguard adults at risk of abuse.

Continue reading “Worth waiting for? The Draft Care and Support Bill”

Keep calm, but note the warning

Whilst social care reform proposals remain bedevilled by an inability to find a funding solution, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has published its annual Fiscal Sustainability Report.  As last year, this warns of the age-related risks to public finances in the longer term – which, to the OBR, is 50 years.

Its big picture forecast is of rising costs on health and pensions, offset by falls on public sector pensions, and of shrinking revenues from parts of the existing tax base especially oil and gas and (because of globalisation) corporation taxes and VAT. It expressly does not call for more fiscal tightening in the medium term – the period in the Treasury’s sights to 2017 – but it concludes that “governments would be likely to need some replacement sources of revenue just to keep the tax burden constant, let alone to meet the costs of an ageing population”.

Comparing 2016/17 with 2061/62, the OBR sees:

  • health spending rising smoothly as the population ages from 6.8% of Gross Domestic Product to 9.1%;
  • state pension costs increasing from 5.6% to 8.3%;
  • social care costs growing from 1.1% to 2%;
  • gross public service pension payments falling from 2.2% to 1.3% – or in net terms (including contributions) from 1.7% to 0.9%.

The shortfall in tax revenues are even less easy to project, but could amount to 2% of GDP or more.

These percentages translate into big money – in today’s terms, 1% of GDP is about £15bn. But it is striking how modestly social care features in these estimates. And of course, all the calculations are based on what we are doing today and cannot reflect any significant change in public habits and behaviour, or indeed scientific breakthroughs, such as finding a cure for dementia.

Meanwhile, what do we know about the public’s attitude to paying higher taxes for better public services? The picture is often contradictory. Polling by MORI shows that in 2010, 58% of the public supported cutting public services to pay off the national debt, but by June this year, that had fallen to 46%. The British Social Attitudes Survey, covering the years 1998 to 2009, showed a falling appetite for spending more on welfare benefits for the poor if it led to higher taxes: different age cohorts hold different views (with older generations being more supportive), but nearly half the baby-boomers, for example, supported this proposition at the beginning of the period, but only a third by the end. There has been a slow but steady shift from supporting a society which emphasises social and collective provision of welfare towards encouraging individuals to look after themselves – the balance is now 51:49.

The row about social care reform, of course, is that people probably would do more to look after themselves if the reforms gave them a credible platform to do so. That was the whole point of Andrew Dilnot’s proposed caps, which we now learn the Government agrees with in principle. If we look at the OBR’s rather gloomy forecasts we cannot have these proposals too soon, both for social care per se and for getting more efficiencies into the health service. Kicking these decisions into the long grass is not going to make the OBR any less gloomy next year.

Read Age UK’s briefing about the Governments proposals for social care reform

Find out more about our Care in Crisis campaign