Care funding must be fair to hard-pressed rural areas
Sarah Wollaston, Conservative MP for Totnes, believes reform of funding of care for the elderly will benefit many in the Westcountry.
Coming to terms with a disabling condition and the loss of independence is all the more painful when the cost of care and support has to be met in full. Anyone with assets, including property, over £23,250 has to fund the care they need entirely from their own savings and the uncertainty of unlimited bills has meant that there is no way of insuring against such a risk. One in ten face the cruel lottery of paying over £100,000 or having to sell their homes to pay for residential care.
The reality is that many people choose to struggle on with help at all and that can lead to avoidable problems, even an admission to hospital resulting in the loss of independence.
This week has been a major step forward. Funding the principles of the Dilnot Commission will make a real difference, particularly as they will be introduced as part of the Care and Support Bill.
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In essence the asset threshold to be liable for social care is being raised to £123,000. This will benefit the many thousands of people who have worked hard to save for their retirement. For those with assets above that level, there is the reassurance that their payments will finally be limited. If their lifetime costs reach £75,000 or their assets fall below £123,000, they will no longer have to pay for care. Reassuringly for those who have severely disabled children, once their children reach 18 and move into adult services they will not have to pay at all, irrespective of assets.
The days of making unfunded spending promises are over. The cost of this will be largely met from a freeze on the inheritance tax threshold and, as a result, some have argued that this cuts out any benefit. This is not the case and it is those who have modest savings or assets below £123,000 who stand to gain the most. The cap is higher than the £50,000 upper limit originally proposed but is equivalent to £61,000 at the time of the report so not as far adrift as some have suggested.
The Draft Care and Support Bill also includes nationally consistent eligibility in assessments for care and "portability". In other words, if you have a package of care in one part of the country you are able to take that with you if you move to live near a loved one. Carers' needs will be properly assessed and supported and everyone who needs it will have access to information and advice on issues like finance, the quality of care homes and how to find someone to provide support at home.
The proposals will end the need for anyone to sell their home in their lifetime to pay for care as everyone will be eligible to defer payments.
The Bill establishes a "well-being principal", something that was widely requested by charities. It encourages local authorities to focus on prevention; helping people to live as independently and actively as possible and makes it easier for health and social care services to work together to achieve those goals.
Where people are badly let down, the Bill looks to set up safeguarding boards which can step in to protect the vulnerable. The terrible crimes witnessed at Winterbourne View must not be allowed to happen again.
Underpinning all these plans comes the need to make sure that care is adequately funded. Councils are struggling to make ends meet. If they have a legal obligation to fund care for the thousands of people who will no longer have to pay themselves, that could have a knock-on effect in cutting other important services. Last week in the Commons I raised the extra challenges which face rural councils with relatively older populations. Devon has the fifth oldest age profile in England and yet already receives a lower payment per head for both local authority and health budgets. Andrew Dilnot's very welcome proposals will be even more welcome if we receive the confirmation we need that councils will be reimbursed according to need and that has to take account of the extra costs of providing services in rural areas to an older population.