Free personal care for over 65 year olds has been much discussed since the start of campaigning for the General Election in December 2019.
But it was also a topic of conversation amongst adult social care peers well before this, with hopes that it might appear in the social care green paper as a suggested type of funding reform.
What does this entail?
Implementation of the concept would bring adult social care in England in line with regulations in Scotland, where any adult aged over 65 – and, more recently, working-age adults – whose care needs meet the criteria are offered help with washing, dressing and eating for free.
Specifically, personal care in Scotland falls under personal hygiene, continence, diet, mobility, counselling, simple treatments and personal assistance.
The system doesn’t take a person’s financial circumstances into account, so people who have a high level of capital are treated in the same way as those who might be in a worse-off situation financially.
This ensures that everyone who qualifies for support services from a care needs point of view is able to access personal care to help them to continue with their day-to-day lives.
However, the proposals would not mean that everyone over the age of 65 is entitled to free care generally.
Beyond basic needs, care would still need to be paid for, including accommodation costs for those in care homes.
It would not cover things such as help with housework, the use of telecare to ensure a safe home environment, or outings and activities in a care home for example.
Impact on the sector
As a subject that’s received a lot of attention, The King’s Fund, Health Foundation and The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) have produced reports detailing how free personal care could be implemented, how much it would potentially cost and both the benefits and the downsides of the proposals.
If we take the estimations from A fork in the road, produced by The King’s Fund and Health Foundation, ‘Free personal care could require around an extra £6bn in 2020/21 and £8bn by 2030/31, compared with continuing levels of access and quality under the current  system. This would increase the estimated funding gap to £7bn in 2020/21 and £14bn in 2030/31.’
However, projected benefits include easier integration between health and social care, fewer delayed transfers of care (therefore hypothetically saving money for the NHS) and potential earlier access to support, enabling people to stay in their own homes for longer, in line with the Care Act’s ambitions to help people remain independent.
Further into the future, people might have a better understanding of what social care is and how the sector can help, and this could lead to an improvement in the way it is perceived.
But do the benefits outweigh the cost implications and, with other potential options on the table, is this proposal for reform a viable answer?