11 Jul 2012

Who cares about social care?

We all hope to grow old one day. So why does the question of how we’ll pay for our social care fail to light the political touchpaper.

Although campaigners recognise the draft legislation as a step in the right direction, it has been criticised by those who have followed the issue for many years for fudging the critical question of how to pay for care.

Dr Emma Stone, director of policy and research at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation told Channel 4 News: “Fundamentally, the debate on who pays for social care – how and how much – is unpopular and unpalatable. Care can be a deeply personal issue. Paying for care can be deeply divisive. We need to see political leadership here and that is not what we’ve seen today.”

Announcing the plans, the Health Secretary Andrew Lansley told the Commons that among other measures, the government wanted to introduce a universal right for individuals to defer selling their home during their lifetime. That option is currently available but is not an option for everyone.

Although in principal the reforms have been welcomed, the tough political question of how to fund long term care was not addressed, leading some organisations such as Saga to say that the government has given people the rights to decent care but “without the funding to exercise those rights”.

Read more: Labour says social care bill “fails credibility test”

At the heart of the debate is how much money people should pay for their own care, particularly those who have assets such as property. In the draft bill, the government accepted the recommendation made by the Dilnot Commission into social care which suggested a cap of around £35,000 on the amount that anyone should contribute to their care.

Lack of knowledge

The government said discussions would continue as to at which level the cap should be set.

But campaigners say key social care issues have been known for many years and that politicians are failing to address such fundamental questions.The current system of funding has been unchanged in principle since 1948.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) says that despite unprecedented consensus among charities, care providers and councils, MPs tell them the issue is “not reaching our mailbags”.

Even though statistics suggest that between two-thirds and three-quarters of us will need care at some point in our lives, Emma Stone from the JRF told Channel 4 News the problem is that most of us do not think that one day will: “I think the reason for this is that there is still a real lack of knowledge and understanding of the care system.

“We don’t have a good track record on planning for old age – individually or collectively – you just need to look at the problems we’re facing over pensions.

How many pensioners are selling their homes to pay for care? FactCheck takes a look

“It is an uphill struggle to raise awareness and clarify what the care system is and how it works. Most if us don’t realise how dysfunctional the current system is until we, or loved ones, are in a crisis.

“And when you are struggling to get the support you need, you’re not in a position to mobilise or lobby your MP.”

In the draft bill, the government has included a £32m slice of funding to pay for a campaign to raise awareness about local care provision which may improve knowledge and push the issue up the political agenda.

Other systems

But looking elsewhere, the options for funding appear to rest on some sort of social insurance. Researchers from the LSE looked at care provision elsewhere in the developed world.

They found that in Japan, the over-40s make mandatory contributions to care with other amounts coming from general taxation. The insurance benefits are designed to cover the total costs of care and are high by international standards.

In France, payment for care is funded through general taxation. The amount of state support people receive depends on their financial means as well as their level of assessed need.

People receive tapered state support varying from 90 per cent to 10 per cent of assessed care costs and these depend on the income and assets of the service user.

Whatever system the government selects, the need to find an alternative to the current one is becoming ever more pressing.


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