Is it just me…?

Editor in Chief, Robert Chamberlain considers the social care funding crisis set to continue after the General Election.

I’ve deliberately avoided discussing the General Election in my column this month as this is already being covered in depth in this edition of CMM. Still on a political theme, I would like to comment on the ongoing situation with social care funding – regardless of whoever is in post after the General Election.

I was prompted to cover this topic following the recent Daily Mail headline, Loving daughter faces having to sell her family home to fund her mother’s care bills after landmark court ruling which could affect thousands of families. The news story covered the Court of Appeal ruling that theatre director, Glen Walford, will have to sell her mother’s house to pay for care fees.

The case was of particular interest as Ms Walford resides in the house and has invested £40,000 of her own money on improving the property.

Culture of expectation

While I can empathise with Ms Walford’s situation I can’t help but feel that there is a prevalent culture of expectation amongst the general public, regarding social care costs, that needs addressing. Social care, unlike heath care, is not provided for by the State unless an individual’s assets fall beneath the current threshold of £23,250. Our ageing population needs to plan for these costs in the same way that retirement funds are considered.

The Government’s actions to get private pensions in place for individuals was on the back of a strong message not to rely on State pensions in later years. A similar message regarding care fees planning is needed to challenge public perceptions on State reliance. Unfortunately the respective political parties are instead using the issue as a ‘political football’, which I feel compounds the problem.

The reality

Let’s face some facts. There is currently too little money in the system to fund (at a market rate) the social care of those who qualify for financial assistance. Constrained budgets have led to local authorities raising care needs eligibility criteria, inappropriately short homecare visits and also impacted on the quality of care provided due to under-funded placements.

The care sector relies heavily on staff willing to work for a minimum wage and operating costs are growing at a higher rate than council fee increases. The funding reforms due in 2016 are widely considered to be of far less benefit to care seekers than as presented.

With the exception of increasing the threshold for State assistance to £118,000, analysis has shown that the reforms will only marginally improve on the current system of funding. The care fees ‘cap’ of £72,000 is certainly misleading. It is only the part of the care fee equivalent to what the council would pay, that counts towards the ‘meter’.

Does this mean individuals should deny themselves care until they reach the national eligibility criteria so that they can then purchase care at the same rate as the council, until the cap is reached? Also, the alternatives to traditional care services that are being championed, which are (arguably) lower cost, are not developing swiftly enough to keep pace with growing demand.

Managing expectations

Isn’t it about time that the general public were told how it is going to be, in terms of social care funding? There is too little Government money being made available now, or in the foreseeable future, to adequately address the care fees crisis, except for the poorest in society.

Even for those that qualify for financial assistance, the rate at which this care is funded could result in minimal care packages and the requirement of third party top-ups. It’s best not to rely on the State for your social care needs and to start planning for the potential future costs in the same way as one would a pension.

But when will this filter through to the general public?

Do you agree with Robert? Add to the debate in the comments below. Subscription required.

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