Social care: Not just an issue for our grannies

Laurence Clark

3301301 251x300 Social care: Not just an issue for our granniesThis blog is about an issue which isn’t considered particularly sexy.  Whenever it does make the news, it’s usually reported as something that only affects our grannies.  By the end of the decade it will be eating up a large part of your hard-earned council tax when spending will exceed 45% of your council’s budget.  Successive governments over the past 20 years have pledged to tackle it and then subsequently chickened out.

Of course, I’m talking about social care funding and last week’s announcement that, yet again, the powers that be have shirked away from introducing a fair, sustainable system.

There you go – I can already feel the eyes of some of you glazing over; and others straying to the side bar and that link to the Madonna blog.  But bear with me…

You may well be wondering what on earth care funding has to do with me, since the vast majority of media coverage around this issue seems to solely focus on older people having to sell their homes in order to pay for residential care.  This could be partly down to our incredibly outdated public perception of social care, as well as lots of middle-aged journalists panicking about the potential demise of their inheritances!  But charging for care effects affects everyone who uses adult social care, young and old, whether they’re in a care home or their own home.

From the age of 18 when I left my parents’ home, I’ve needed support to live independently, and will probably do so for the rest of my days.  As well as all my other taxes, I also currently pay £38.73 per week in care charges – something that often gets overlooked when people like me get called scroungers. This support enables me to live a full life, go to work and raise my family.  Far from the rigid, inflexible provisions of a care home, I’m in control of my support package and able to tailor it to my lifestyle.  For example, in two weeks’ time I’ll be performing at the Edinburgh Fringe for a month.  Because I directly employ the people who support me, I’m able to take them with me whenever I work away.

We’ve heard so much in the past couple of years about getting more disabled people into work and off benefits.  I’d say the main reasons why we work are to get a better standard of living and some financial security for ourselves and our family in later life.  But the current system of charging for care denies people like me such benefits.

If I have over a certain amount in savings then my weekly care charge could potentially almost double, and if I ever saved more than £23,250 then I’d lose my entitlement and have to pay for the full cost of my support.  So despite earning a good wage, I’d be penalised for saving for things like my retirement or sending my children to university.  Likewise in the highly unlikely event that I was ever rich enough to become a property tycoon or buy a holiday home, I could be legally forced to sell any property I didn’t currently live in and put the proceeds towards paying for my care.  The same also goes for stocks and shares.  There’s no point even buying into a private pension, as the majority of any pay-out upon my retirement would go towards paying for my care.  And if I move to another part of the country then my charges could rise, as each council has different rules about how much people pay.

In short, all of the mechanisms we have to financially plan for our future are off-limits to me, as any benefits I receive from them would be taken from me and put towards the cost of my care.  Who else has to pay for the right to go to the toilet, get dressed or eat a meal?  It feels like we’re being charged for our own inclusion.

Mind you, it’d be worse if I lived in Scotland, where the much-publicised free personal care was only extended to that powerful voting lobby – the pensioners.  I on the other hand would have to contribute the majority of my wage packet towards my care.  If that’s not a disincentive to work then I don’t know what is.

The issue of long-term care funding has been a bone of contention for years.  I was even doing stand-up about this as far back as 2004. Nowadays I may be looking a little older and the references to Jeffery Archer may seem dated, but the situation remains exactly the same.

None of the major political parties have anything to be proud of here.  Thatcher’s Government introduced the power for councils to charge for their services, intending for it to be used for things like waste collection.  The New Labour Government chose to ignore a Royal Commission recommending free personal care.  The ConDem Government appointed the Dilnot Commission which recommended not charging people under 65 and limiting individuals’ contributions to £35,000, after which the state would pay.  But whilst saying last week that he supported these recommendations in principle, Andrew Lansley made it clear that, yet again, the Government is currently not willing to fund such a scheme.

This is a false economy.  Our current social care system is chronically under-funded and heading for collapse under our aging population.  Even before the credit crunch, expenditure on adult social care did not see anything like the increase for health funding.  The under-funding negatively impacts on other areas, such as health and employment.  So why isn’t this a higher priority?

I believe this is because most people know very little about our social care system until they find themselves in the unfortunate position of having to use it.  For a long time the general public have laboured under the illusion that the tax and national insurance contributions they pay mean that support is there if they ever need it.  But when that day arrives they discover what a dog’s breakfast the current system truly is.  What’s needed is a shift in public perceptions.  We need to care about social care in the same way we care about the NHS.  After all, there would be a public outcry at the very mention of charging for NHS services, even though the same has been common practice for years in social care. Yet the distinction between the two is often academic.

But most of all, we need a Secretary of State for Health with the guts to push through a fair, sustainable, long-term care funding system which enables people to plan for their future.  It’s been a long wait and it looks like we’ll be waiting even longer.

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  • Jane Young

    Thank you, Independent, for allowing a disabled person to explain what social care is really about – and how charging destroys the ability of disabled people to manage their money on an equal basis to our peers. Great article.

  • julianzzz

    Great article, totally true, a real disgrace! It’s one thing taking surplus house value to pay for the last years of care, totally another, penalising the disabled for enterprise!

  • mary1966

    45% of council tax going to pay for social care? Much rather it went to pay for social care than public sector pensions.Let them pay for their own pensions and there’d be more in the pot that we all contribute to, for social care

  • obloodyhell

    Wow, and then people wonder why it is we Americans don’t want this asinine crap put into place here…. On both sides — you complain about the constraints, but then complain about the charges. As though the solution wasn’t to cut off the open-ended nature of it in the first place that makes it actually unsustainable no matter what.

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