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From The Socialist newspaper, 18 July 2012

Tories stick the boot in on care funding

The Con-Dem government white paper on adult social care funding in England represents a further blow to elderly and disabled people requiring financial support.

Individuals and cash-strapped local authorities will continue to foot the bill. And with a possible cap on the costs individuals have to pay set as high as 100,000, the government's proposals are worse than the Labour appointed Dilnot report.

As Sue Powell argues, the government's strategy is all about cost cutting and privatisation of services, dressed up as 'reforms'.

The private care industry will be the only winners of the recent Care and Support Bill. The Con-Dems' latest white paper will help enshrine the idea that elderly people who cannot afford adequate care have been "feckless".

A 2010 Tory election poster attacked Labour's social care proposals and featured a gravestone inscribed: "Now Gordon [Brown] wants 20,000 when you die. Don't vote for Labour's new death tax".

Now the Tories will introduce a universal deferred payments scheme to allow pensioners going into residential care to borrow from their local council - the so-called "death tax".

The Dilnot Commission, set up by Labour, recommended a "shared payment" system, with the state and individuals each paying more.

Gordon Brown wanted a ceiling of 20,000, Dilnot 35,000-50,000 - to be paid after death upon sale of the individual's property.

According to Dilnot his scheme would cost less than one-thousandth of the government's total spending.

But even this is apparently unaffordable and the Tories want a cap of 100,000. Yet this savings busting ceiling won't cover accommodation costs!

Ros Altmann, director general of Saga, said: "Will this system stop people from losing their life savings including their family homes? The answer is no, people will still lose everything."

Means testing

Currently people with savings above 23,250 pay the full costs of help in their own home. Only those with assets of less than 14,250 get all their care paid for.

The same means test applies to residential care, but the value of a person's home is taken into account.

Due to council cuts many people now use their savings to pay for meals on wheels, home help, etc. Around 40,000 people already sell their homes to pay care costs each year.

As people live longer, the more likely they are to spend in care homes. 10% of us are expected to live for eight years in residential care, costing 245,000 to 363,000.

Around 400,000 elderly people are in residential care; by 2031 it will rise to 750,000. The true figures are higher, but family carers and many hospital beds account for people too ill or incapacitated to return to their homes, for who there is no suitable care home.

The NHS is going to be hit again, as the government intends to transfer an extra 300 million of its funds to local councils to help "integrate" social care and health services.

There are plans for a "voluntary scheme" so people could insure themselves and "individually make the choice to be protected by a capped cost scheme". Only those who pay into the social insurance scheme would get the benefits.

The bill also raises the idea of people borrowing from councils - deferred payments - which would only delay the sale of family homes.

When the cash runs out, most people will be forced to fall back on the local council's help and face being moved to different homes.

For a generation or more, families have assumed they can inherit - or borrow on - the value of the family home.

This money is then used to buy homes and pay for their own care. In future, how will ordinary people survive in their old age, especially as wages and pensions are being driven down?

Fewer people can afford their own homes; fewer will inherit anything if care costs of 35,000, 50,000 or 100,000 have to be paid - as proposed.

Local councils will be given responsibility for care provision under this bill. Yet there will be no extra cash and this year alone sees a shortfall of 1 billion in councils' adult social services budgets.

The number of older people in England receiving council funded care has fallen by 11% in the last two years.

Cost-cutting is not only callous, but counter-productive. Proper support in the home would mean fewer people in need of residential care.

The neglect of elderly people in the home has a bad effect on mental and physical health. An open letter from experts and charities warned that an estimated 800,000 older people are already without basic care: lonely, isolated and at risk.

Many people cannot cope with personal budgets - a Labour idea which the new bill makes a legal right.

Last year saw individuals choosing personal budgets go up by 53% to 429,349. Personal budgets are supposed to "empower people" but they cost more for less.

In practice, people are pressurised into them because the system is a charter for privatisation.

Privatised failings

Care provision is a postcode lottery with 152 different systems and numerous private providers. Closures of homes due to abuse of residents, poor standards and financial irregularities abound.

The collapse of Southern Cross is one notable example. The supervision of homes has proven a fiasco. The government acknowledges this: it "wants to reassure people that they will not be left without care and support if a care provider fails, the government will be consulting later this year on proposals for greater oversight of the social care market."

Frankly this is not very reassuring. Health minister Andrew Lansley described his social care proposals as "the most radical reform of care costs in 64 years".

Jeremy Hughes, CEO of the Alzheimer's Society says: "Millions of vulnerable people had been promised radical reform but... are being massively let down. This white paper is not worth the paper it's written on."

The problem, say the Tories, is the care system is unaffordable because people are living longer. On the contrary, we cannot afford their system - and can't wait for its demise.


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In The Socialist 18 July 2012:


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