Appalling cases of abuse or neglect in hospitals and care homes have rightly hit the headlines. However, there is also a hidden care crisis affecting thousands of families across the country.
Many struggle to find the help they need when a loved one becomes ill or frail. Some elderly people end up with only 15 minute home visits to get them up, washed, dressed and fed.
At the same time, charges for care are increasing and vary hugely across the country. These are a hidden tax on some of the most frail and vulnerable people.
There is also real anger that many older people who have worked hard all their lives have to sell their homes to pay for residential care.
The Government refuses to acknowledge that their cuts have pushed a system that was already under pressure close to breaking point. £1 billion has been slashed from local council budgets for older people’s care since the Coalition came to power.
Yet these cuts are a false economy. Delayed discharges from hospital, due to inadequate services in the community or at home, have soared by 29% over the last 2 years and now cost taxpayers £18 million every month.
1 million unpaid carers have had to give up work, or reduce their hours, because the support they need to look after family members isn’t available or is too expensive. This costs the economy £1.3 billion every year in lost tax revenues and increased benefit bills.
With our ageing population, and the number of over 85s set to double by 2030, we need action now.
That’s why Labour put forward plans to fundamentally reform long-term care at the last election.
This Government has so far failed to grasp the scale or urgency of the challenge. Its White Paper has been repeatedly delayed and its unclear whether tomorrow’s Queen’s Speech will include the comprehensive changes families desperately need to help them care for elderly and disabled relatives.
Users and carers should have clear rights for their needs to be assessed, with national standards on eligibility to help tackle the post-code lottery in care.
There should be genuinely joined-up and personalised services, with the focus on prevention and early intervention in the community or at home.
Better information and proper safeguards are also vital to improving quality and public confidence in the system.
The key test for the Government, however, is whether they will grasp the nettle and reform the way care is funded in future.
The Dilnot Commission’s recommendations provide a huge opportunity for progress. They include capping the costs of care that people would be expected to pay to between £25,000 and £50,000, and raising the means-tested threshold above which people have to pay for full care costs, from £23,250 to £100,000.
Labour has warmly welcomed these proposals as a step towards a better, more sustainable system.
Ed Miliband initiated cross party talks on care funding and we have since engaged in this process with a spirit of openness, sincerity and pragmatism.
Labour is pushing for progress in the talks as a matter of urgency.
There needs to be sufficient funding for the current system, as well as reform for the future.
Whilst substantial savings can and must be made by changing the way NHS and care services are provided, the resources required to pay for social care over future decades cannot be found from within the existing care system alone.
So we need an open and honest debate with the public about what help and support they will be entitled to when they are older, and what it is reasonable for them to contribute in return. Any new system for funding care must be fair across the generations, as well as across different incomes.
Labour understands families include elderly parents and grandparents, as well as children. We want legislation on long-term care funding in this parliament, not simply producing a progress report, which is the Government’s current plan.
The Coalition must now set out a clear and convincing timetable for reform. This issue is too important to duck, and too urgent to kick into the long grass.
Sourced from The Telegraph, 8th May 2012.