Policy makers so far haven’t put adult social care anywhere near the top of the agenda and the older generation’s patience is running out.
A whole year has passed since Andrew Dilnot published his detailed report on social care funding but ministers have finally responded. Last week, the white paper on tackling the care crisis in England was released.
Sadly, it is not the action plan we, or Mr Dilnot, had hoped for.
There is some good news in that Dilnot’s calls for investment in more integrated services, an increase in the number of adequate sheltered housing units for older people, and a national minimum eligibility threshold for access to free social care have been accepted.
Yet the first of these pivotal decisions won’t be implemented until 2014 at the earliest. In the interim, those in need of care are stuck with the current system.
On the critical issue of funding, the government has accepted Dilnot’s proposals ‘in principle’ to introduce a cap on the amount people have to pay for their care. But decisions on the level of this cap, and how it should be paid for, are for discussion at a later date.
Even the offer of universal deferred payments – whereby people can take out loans to pay for their care to be paid off from their estate after they die – is something of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Without a cap on individuals’ contributions, it still means older people could use up all of their savings on care.
Older people have had enough of issues which affect their lives being relegated to the bottom of politicians’ priority list. According to Anchor research (before the white paper was published), more than two thirds of people over 55 believe the coalition government has not paid enough attention to social care and only 14 per cent were confident that the government would find a solution to the many failures which blight the system.
But it is not just this administration which is at fault. Less than a third of older people believe the social care system would have fared better under a different government.
The lack of commitment to reform is problematic for those of us who work in the sector but the implications are greater for older people struggling with a complex and outdated care system.
The time really has come to take action.
Last month, MPs showed their support for Anchor’s Grey Pride campaign, backing a motion calling on the government to consider appointing a Minister for Older People. It is a momentous move in setting older people’s issues firmly on the government agenda. Had a dedicated minister already existed to push decisions forward, perhaps the wait for social care funding reform would not have exceeded a year.
Many of the 137,000 people who also backed Anchor’s call for a dedicated minister cited social care as a key issue. Under the current system, two fifths of older people are worried that they will have to turn to family members for help with social care costs but most doubt their family will have the necessary funds. With an ageing population, this is a huge concernt.
It is crucial that the many unanswered questions following the white paper – most importantly, how care will be paid for – are answered urgently.
Jane Ashcroft is CEO of Anchor, England’s largest not-for-profit provider of housing and care to older people.