/ Money

Should personal care be free?

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.

Valuable support

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.



Morgan I fully support your campaign, it’s an absolute disgrace that elderly citizen in the UK who have worked hard and paid tax all there life are being forced to sell their homes to pay for care which they have already paid for with their taxes. The stupidity and unfairness of successive government policies has been and still is to give free care to people who have no assets.

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This comment was removed at the request of the user

This comment was removed at the request of the user

This comment was removed at the request of the user

In the past families took care of their old or very old folks now they tend not to BUT they wish to
inherit from them…the others,society should care for them at no cost to these families…?!
an old “boy”.

Morgan Vine says:
15 October 2019

Hi Jean, sometimes it’s not always possible for a family to take care of their loved ones. There can be lots of reasons for that. Independent Age isn’t calling for all social care to be free, instead we are suggesting that the Government committ to fund ‘personal care’ which is help with the most basic tasks such as washing, eating, going to the loo and dressing. Many people we speak to are willing to pay for the additional costs on top such as attending day centres etc. We believe by providing free personal care more people would get support earlier. At the moment, because the system is so complex, many don’t access the help they need until crisis point which costs society far much more money.

Ray Pickard says:
8 October 2019

I have for some years fought for my mums care. It has been a uphill struggle all the way and is continuing even now she is in hospital and waiting for a care home. The first question they always ask is , “does your mother own her own home.” seems to imply to me that if she does then we can find a home, and if not that’s a different case.

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Andrew says:
9 October 2019

Why is it so difficult to find simple information when you need to find it quickly.
After contracting polio as a young child back in the early ’60’s, and then fracturing both sides of my skull, after a speeding car hit me, sent me 20ft into the air and then I went through the windscreen and ended up on the back seat, which resulted in a 9 month coma, police did not press any charges. So after many years of learning to walk, read, write and breath unaided, although I was left with poor memory retention, constant acute multiple joint and spinal pain, as well as a very embarrassing skin condition, which needed twice daily treatment. Amazingly, I met what I thought was that special person, after 20 years of ‘living together’ we decided to get married in the millennium. Obviously all our time together, my now wife was my full time carer. All was going as well as could be expected until around 8 years ago, when the diagnosis of testicular cancer was made, recovered, but then 3 years later diagnosis of lung cancer(never smoked). After a lengthy campaign given the ok 7 years ago. Then the ‘bombshell’, 5 years ago I was diagnosed with acute loss of kidney function, possibly induced by my medication for another illness. My kidney function dropped as low as 27% and it was looking like dialysis was on the cards. However, due to a lot of changes we have managed to stabilise my kidney function at an average of 45%, over the last 5 years. Then the bombshell to top ALL bombshells. A few weeks after returning from a ‘restbite holiday’ , my partnerwife of nearly 40 years, left and notified me by email the next morning. Complete and utter devastation. On trying to find out the procedure for appointing another carer, and transferring the carers allowance, which is now into the third month and still no closer, I have received notification that ‘due to being able to cope without a permanent carer for this length of time, has given doubt over the required level of care I actually require, so the DWP have launched a fraudulent benefits investigation, going back to 2010, which has also meant that all of my other benefits have either been stopped or reduced to the bare minimum. So much for the NHS and SUPPORT FOR THE ELDERLY, in the UK. Anything to try and save a few ££’s from the disabled persons benefits, so that the ‘caring MP’s can take a lengthy paid holiday’. Also NO backup service available from my care at home team, apparently it is not there responsibility to provide a 24/7/365, live in carer. Also signs of the changing commitments and loyalties, entered into during a wedding services ‘solemn promise’, when a 40 year relationship can be thrown away with the rubbish without a second thought. So I now wait to see if I will go into a ‘care home’ or prison.
It is about time the populous of the UK gave those appointed to act on behalf of and in the best interest of the populous, a really big kick up the backside. They are getting paid ridiculous amounts of money + the scams, fiddles and backhanders and are making what was once a ‘great nation’, a ‘laughing stock’ to the rest of the world. At the current rate the UK will soon need a ‘LIVE AID CONCERT’ to stop the UK from becoming a third world country.

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