Robert Leitch is a Parliamentary researcher and Chairman of CarePlus, a charity which works with the elderly in Bromley
With the long-awaited Dilnot Report into the funding of social care and support in England due to be published on Monday, it is clear that the Coalition faces yet another tricky spending dilemma. The issue of social care has been firmly in the public spotlight recently. Both the Southern Cross care home crisis, and BBC Panorama’s shocking footage of abuse within a private care home, have quite rightly hit the media headlines. The release of the Dilnot Report, therefore, is extremely timely.
As the Chairman of a small charity which works with the elderly and vulnerable in South-East London, I have witnessed the real anger and despair that exists over the current provision of support and funding for the elderly in our communities. The current system is broken, unsustainable and, worst of all, it is tragically failing the elderly and vulnerable.
Indeed, according to Age UK, 800,000 of the two million older people who require care fail to receive any support from either the public or private sectors at present. As in other areas of health and social care, a postcode lottery system of providing support also continues to operate unfairly. This results in a lack of clarity for elderly people and their families over what level of support, if any, may be offered to them.
The topic of social care and support for the elderly quite rightly prompts genuine concern amongst the public. This is hardly surprising as the vast majority of people will, at some point, either experience caring for elderly family members, or indeed require such care themselves. Sadly, the situation is likely to deteriorate further too. With an ageing population, longer life expectancy and the wider economic situation, the pressures upon our social services are mounting.
It is thus essential that the Dilnot Report marks the start of change. A new blueprint, with cross-party consensus, and adequate funding is required. It is largely expected that the Dilnot Commission will outline a number of suggestions, with the most radical being a partnership proposal between the State and the individual.
In such a scenario, the state would agree to fund any care costs above a specified financial cap (expected to be between £35,000-£50,000) in return for the individual agreeing to take responsibility for meeting any costs below this cap figure through their own insurance, property equity, savings or capital. This single suggestion would immediately give clarity and confidence to a great number of individuals and their families who would consequently be better placed to plan for the future. Individuals’ homes would not necessary need to be sold off to fund long-term care costs and it is far more feasible that new insurance schemes would be set up with the security of cap appealing to insurers.
Yet practically all of the Dilnot Commission’s recommendations will have one thing in common: they will all cost more money. In such difficult economic times, and with the public purse already being squeezed, the prospect of committing to higher spending in this area may not be received warmly by the Treasury. However, this is one of the very few cases where the Government must invest seriously. Even in light of the budget deficit, failure to increase spending in elderly social care would be both heartless and foolish for three main reasons:
- It would be immoral. Failure to invest fresh funds into elderly care in the face of the Dilnot Report would be a betrayal to elderly people across England. Surely, (to borrow slightly from a famous quote!) the measure of a modern society is how it supports and respects its elder members.
- The status quo is unsustainable. With demand for such care rising, provision and standards will continue to fall further, with the direct result of inadequate social care being a growing dependency upon key NHS services.
- Other spending commitments. If the Government rejects the call to increase funding on social care, one would again have to question the budgets currently assigned to international aid and the EU to name but two examples. Frankly, our elderly deserve better than to be placed at the bottom of the Government’s priority list.
Successive Governments have promoted a so-called "respect agenda" for the elderly, yet actions speak louder than words. Labour failed to put social care for the elderly on a stable footing despite the privilege of governing during the global economic boom. I do not pretend that addressing the deeply complex issues involved will be easy, nor do I suggest that we should fritter away taxpayers’ money recklessly. Nevertheless, in this specific area, as I hope the Dilnot Report will conclude, we must act without delay and offer fresh hope to the frail, elderly and vulnerable in our society, many of whom are being so tragically failed at present.