As usual, Tuesday’s Budget was a mixed bag; some gains, some losses for the majority of people, including those in social care. Here is a brief summary of what I have spotted.
Firstly, the downsides; public sector pay has been frozen for 2 years, except for those earning less than £21,000 per year. As many people in social care work in the public sector, this could have an impact on service users down the line.
For instance, it could demotivate workers, but some may decide to leave the sector entirely if they see the chance of better pay in the private sector – however, losing experienced staff is something that can be ill-afforded.
Also, the government will introduce a medical assessment for Disability Living Allowance from 2013 for new and existing claimants. Interestingly, the wording in the Budget says that this measure is to “ensure support is targeted on those with the highest medical need”.
I assume this will be some form of capacity for work assessment, which is the prevailing trend in disability benefits. It also seems to indicate that the criteria for eligibility may be raised. This could see some claimants moved onto other benefits that do not pay as much, or off them entirely.
Also, and a little oddly, the document also says that the medical assessment will “ensure payments are only made for as long as a claimant needs them”. As DLA is paid to people with a disability – generally an ongoing thing that doesn’t get better – this makes me wonder if the government really understand what it is and what it is for.
DLA has never been a form of unemployment benefit; it is there to help people with disabilities – physical or mental – pay for items they need to live, such as care services, which the general population do not need. To take this away could make life very difficult for some disabled people.
Elsewhere, VAT will rise to 20% from January 2011, which is a move that will hit everyone in the pocket, but for people on benefits or low incomes, the effect could be magnified.
Also, capping Housing Benefit at £280 a week for a one-bedroom property and £400 a week for a four-bedroom family home could also adversely impact on service users and carers, especially in London and the south of England.
On the plus side, from April 2011, disabled people who require an extra room to support a resident carer will be able to claim Housing Benefit. This again supports the government’s ongoing commitment to the personalisation agenda.
Also, the changes to tax thresholds could see some people on low incomes – which often include carers – taken out of the tax system.
Likewise, the move to link pensions with earnings from April 2011, meaning that it is guaranteed to rise in line with earnings, prices or 2.5%, whichever is the greater, will help older people.
Chancellor George Osborne added that proposals on welfare reform will be announced by October this year, before the government announces its comprehensive spending review (CSR), which will set out the plans for public expenditure for the next 3 years. It is good to see that – finally – there may be some movement on this much-needed measure.
So there are plusses and minuses to this Budget – possibly more of the latter than the former. However, benefit cuts have not come directly, which had been rumoured, but other measures will impact adversely nonetheless.
But there is also still much that is still to be decided; local authority budgets, which will be announced in the CSR, and that could yet have more impact on social care.