The UK is approaching a perfect storm with an ageing population and many people unprepared for the future
For a short while, it seemed like the issue of social care funding would finally be addressed after years of government procrastination. The Conservatives promised a consultation on social care reform, U-turned on the so-called dementia tax and, instead, confirmed their intention to cap the amount people pay towards care.
But now that plans to introduce such a cap have been scrapped and the social care consultation is rumoured to have been delayed until next summer, it seems that the government has followed previous administrations and kicked social care funding into the long grass.
Such a decision is worrying and flies in the face of public opinion. A cap on care costs will increase the fairness of social care, so it’s risky to turn our backs on this idea without an alternative plan in place. There are too many vulnerable older people at risk.
Following an election campaign full of confusing messages about social care, Anchor, England’s largest not-for-profit provider of care and housing for older people, conducted a public poll to gather insight into people’s understanding. Our research found that 70% of British adults believe there should be a cap on social care costs, while almost half believe that social care – including dementia care – should always be paid for by the state.
Sir Andrew Dilnot, who first proposed a cap on social care, has cautioned that plans to abandon it could cause a “catastrophic risk” of poverty in older age. And councils have warned that they cannot afford to pay for all those in need of state-funded care if the dementia tax is introduced, putting many providers at risk of going out of business.
The question of how we fund social care remains unanswered, and the most recent suggestions fail to get to the crux of the issue.
Jackie Doyle-Price, the social care minister, suggested that older people should sell their homes to fund their care. But this doesn’t take the full picture into account. There is a perception that all or most older people are well-off and own their own home – this isn’t the case. For those older people who are home owners and are, to quote the minister, “sitting in homes too big for their needs”, we know that two thirds would like to downsize but can’t due to a lack of suitable options.
Again, this comes down to a lack of funding and supportive policies, despite the fact that more retirement housing could save £14.5bn to the public purse over 50 years.
Whichever direction the future of social care funding is heading, and whether a cap is introduced or not, the government must be open and honest about how social care will be paid for so that everyone can plan for the best possible life in older age. At present, this is far from the case.
More than a fifth of people wrongly believe the state pays entirely for care needs in later life, and more than half underestimate social care costs by up to 20%. Considering these misconceptions, it’s no wonder that just 14% of us are currently saving for our care in later life.
We’re approaching a perfect storm where the future of social care funding is unclear, the population is getting older, and most of us are unprepared for the future. We need a transparent and sustainable long-term strategy that integrates social care, health and housing. Recognising, and acting on this, is our only option.
- Jane Ashcroft is chief executive of Anchor
Source: Social care funding can’t take any more setbacks. It needs reform now : The Guardian