For the last year, older people’s charity Independent Age has been calling for free personal care to be introduced in England. Our guest, its Campaigns Manager, explains why.
This is a guest post by Morgan Vine at Independent Age. All views expressed are Morgan’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.
In 1999, the Royal Commission on Long-Term Care for the Elderly said the Government should introduce free personal care. 20 years on, and the social care system is moving ever further into a deepening crisis.
1.4 million older people have needs which are not met, care firms are going bust, talented professionals are leaving the care work force, family carers are under increasing pressure, and our charity recently uncovered that since 1999, 330,000 people have sold their home to pay for their care costs.
We currently face a situation where people who need help with the most basic of tasks are blocked from the support they need, or face huge financial costs to receive it.
My family’s experience
When my Nan began to struggle at home, I experienced this myself. She was finding simple tasks more difficult.
She had always been fiercely independent, but she told me that getting out of bed was harder than it used to be, and that she was finding it difficult to wash properly. She had lived with Parkinson’s for years and, as her situation deteriorated, she was diagnosed with dementia.
We approached her doctor assuming that the NHS would provide the support she needed. But, as anyone who has faced these challenges will know, it wasn’t that simple.
After speaking to the local authority we discovered that if Nan needed help to eat, dress, wash, or get out of bed, the state would not cover the costs. Due to her modest savings, it was down to her to arrange the right support and pay for it. This was a huge shock to us all.
Nan tried to manage as best she could, choosing only to receive small amounts of care each day to help her wash and prepare food. Despite needing more, she was worried about the costs mounting up.
I believe if she had been able to easily access the support she needed earlier, she would have remained in her own home for longer. Instead, she quickly hit crisis point and, after a long stay in hospital resulted in Nan being accused of ‘bed blocking’, the only option was residential care.
We were given little time to make an informed decision about where she would live going forward. Having already paid for care in her own home, Nan was then faced with bills of close to £700 a week for her care home. We organised the sale of her flat, and the money was used to pay for her care.
Social care provision as a whole covers a range of services that are wider than just personal care, for example help with cleaning or attending day centres.
All of this support is valuable and much needed by many, but the costs can quickly mount up for the individual.
Free personal care isn’t a silver bullet; it wouldn’t remove all the costs faced by someone needing help, but the older people we have spoken to don’t expect to be given everything free of charge.
Our research shows that free personal care would significantly reduce the costs of care received at home and in a care home. Alternatives on the table, such as a cap on care costs of £72,000 would only help 1 in 10 people after spending 6 years in care, despite the average stay in a care home being 2.5 years.
Free personal care, meanwhile would benefit every older person receiving care. In addition, we recommend the Government explores introducing a safeguard to protect those who need residential care, and stop someone spending more than 50% of their wealth on ‘hotel’ care costs in a care home.
Independent Age’s campaign
We believe that a simpler system, where people understand what they are entitled to would result in more people accessing help earlier, and enable many more older people to stay in their own homes for longer.
This kind of provision wouldn’t cost as much as people might think. Independent Age has done the sums on several funding routes and a 1% rise of income tax for someone earning the UK average salary would only equate to about £3 a week for the first couple of years.
Our research shows all generations are behind this. In September 2019 we commissioned new polling that showed 78% of people aged over 18 support free personal care for older people, and 74% said they would contribute financially to make this a reality.
We have consistently heard from Prime Ministers and Governments that they will fix social care, but repeated failure to act has led to a system permanently on the brink of collapse.
We know free personal care isn’t the answer to everything but we think it should be part of the solution.
We will keep campaigning, alongside our fantastic supporters, until the other political parties support social care reform that includes free personal care, and make this an entitlement for all older people.
The more people that join our campaign network, the more effective we will be.
This is a guest post by Morgan Vine at Independent Age. All views expressed were Morgan’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.
Making decisions about care in later life can be complex and confusing. Which? has free guidance on Later Life Care to help you make the best care choices possible.