March 16, 2010
UK: "Individuals should pay toward personal care in old age"
. LONDON, England / The Guardian / Society / Care / March 16, 2010 Universal system paid for by taxation would disproportionately benefit the very wealthy, thinktank warns By Randeep Ramesh, Social affairs editor, The Guardian The government has been told not to consider setting up a tax funded universal personal care service for older people, because it would disproportionately benefit the very wealthy. Related news report 'Middle class pensioners will be spared spiralling care bills' Currently, pensioners with more than £23,000 in savings and assets have to pay the full cost with no financial help from the state. Photo: PHOTOLIBRARY/Telegraph The King's Fund thinktank has waded into the minefield which has seen angry exchanges between all three parties, by arguing for a "partnership" where the Treasury funds half of old age care costs, and the remaining bill is paid for by "a £1 matching government contribution for every £2 individuals pay themselves". The system would also have a safety net for the poor. It would not be cheap, and is projected to cost the government £10.1bn in 2015, rising to £15.5bn by 2026 – 90% more than the existing system would cost in 2015. But it would benefit people with modest means, the fund said, "as they would no longer face the 'cliff-edge' of the current means-tested system if they have savings or assets of £23,000 or more". Since 1997 adult social care has enjoyed a 53% real-terms increase in resources, yet the impact of demographic and funding pressures has meant an ever tighter rationing of services, with the "safety net of public support cast even higher". Richard Humphries, the lead author of a King's Fund report, Securing Good Care for More People, published today, said that the existing system was a bargain-basement version of care which had seen councils contain demand by restricting access. By 2006, fewer households were receiving supported home care than in 1997, and fewer older people got publicly funded care at home than did in 2003. Three-quarters of councils now treat old people only if they have "substantial or critical" needs. "We have means-tested the soul out of the system," said Humphries. "The debate has become about the 45,000 people forced to sell their homes to get care, but there are 1.8 million people who use adult social services." The report says that Britain is now the only rich country to "restrict access to publicly funded social care only to poorer people"; reforms in Austria, Germany and Japan have widened access to their provision. However, Humphries said it would be wrong to assume that this meant Britain needed universal free care funded out of taxation. This, the report says, would "disproportionately benefit wealthier people at the point of need". The question was a political and moral one, he argued. "Why should a cleaner on £8,000 a year pay taxes to fund the care of a person who lives in a £400,000 property that will be left to their children but does not have to find a penny?" The fund says individuals should contribute to cost of care in old age, as there is a "growing awareness" of the affluence of the newly retiring baby-boomer generation who will control £2tr in housing wealth by 2026; otherwise we would have "by far the richest cohort in history becoming the first to receive universal free care ... paid for, to a significant extent, by the most indebted cohort in modern times". [rc] © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010