Free home care "lifeline" for the elderly reduced by 11%
According to a new survey, the number of older and disabled people in England for whom home-care services were paid in full
by their local authority has fallen by 11%
Data from 120 councils following freedom of information requests showed that rising costs are denying home-care services
to thousands of vulnerable people. The data also revealed that council charges across England are widely varied.
Also identified by the study was a 'postcode lottery
', which suggested that the locations in which people live can make significant differences to how much they pay for local authority care services.
These services were established to help older and disabled people with routine essentials, from getting out of bed to washing, dressing and eating. According to the survey, the average hourly rate for such care has risen
in the past 2 years from £12.29 to £13.61
, an increase of 10%.
The opposition believes that ministers have reduced by over £1bn local authority budgets for elderly people, despite promising to ringfence social care services.
Liz Kendall, the Labour MP for Leicester West, criticised the increasing cost of home-care as a "stealth tax on the most vulnerable people in society", warning that free care was being provided to fewer older people, with many more forced to pay higher fees.
"These services are a lifeline for older and disabled people, and crucial to helping them stay living independently in their own homes," Ms Kendall said, noting that an elderly person paid on average for 10 hours a week of home-care and will see yearly costs increase to over £7,000
by next year, a rise since 2010 of over £680.
Condemning the price rises as "disgraceful", the Alzheimer's Society (AS) observed that affording home-care is a struggle for people with dementia and their carers, with many unlikely to be able to afford the higher fees.
"The extortionate costs in some parts of the country don't even guarantee good quality care," said an AS spokesperson. "This is disgraceful. Home care services are vital in helping to maintain quality of life for people living with dementia."
While many authorities once imposed caps on the weekly costs of home-care, some 50% of those councils have now removed the ceiling
. 8 out of 10 councils will now only provide care for people whose needs are categorised "substantial" or "critical", with only those with savings of under £14,250
and who meet local authority means tests eligible for free care.
The Local Government Association (LGA)
has cautioned that, with the government cutting funding by 28%
over the next 4 years, the situation can only worsen.
"The sad reality is, these findings aren't surprising," said David Rogers, the chairman of the LGA's community wellbeing board. "The cost of adult social care already takes up more than 40% of council budgets and we are very close to a point where failure to address the crisis in social care funding could set the long-term solution back years."
The government contends that councils can still meet the costs of elderly care with available money. According to the care services minister, Paul Burstow, the coalition is working on "cross party agreement" on funding.
"Councils decide whether and how much to charge for home care services and the current system of charging has been around since the 1980s," Mr Burstow said. "In the spending review the government recognised the pressures on the adult social care system, and took the decision to prioritise adult social care by allocating an additional £7.2bn
up to 2014/15."
However, some insiders warn that the consequence of cuts without reform will be further charges for social care. Sarah Pickup, president of the Association of Directors of Social Services, said: "The bottom line is that we only have so much money to spend before we have to look at a charging policy."
Janet Cooper, Partner at Simpson Millar Solicitors, said "Whilst we wait for this government or a future government to make the funding of elderly care a priority, families of those in a care home or nursing home can explore if their loved one is eligible for NHS continuing care funding
which is not subject to a means test."