Over the past few days, one of social care’s great recurring stories reappeared, as it seems to do every few months; the ‘scandal’ of old people having to sell their homes to pay for residential care and/or not being funded by the state for their care.
This time, it was the Daily Mail, which ran with a typically hyperbolic headline of ‘3,000 victims of home snatchers: Record numbers of elderly are forced to sell their homes to pay for care’ .
As usual with these stories, the gist was how scandalous it is that people who have worked hard all their lives to save money and/or buy a house now have to lose/sell it to pay for residential care in their old age, while people who never saved get it for free.
Leaving aside the rights and wrongs of this – there are good arguments on both sides – it again shows that politicians cannot afford to ignore this issue.
Social care has been getting a higher profile in recent months – the green paper on the future of adult social care funding was published in June, for instance – but little action has so far be forthcoming.
While Labour has announced its free personal care at home bill, this doesn’t address the problem of people having to pay for residential care and could even create other issues.
For example, it is likely to encourage older people to stay in their own homes for longer, knowing that if they move into residential care they will have to pay for it and possibly give up their home. As a result, some people may not go into care when they need to, and could suffer as a result, whether in the form of injuring themselves in an accident or fall, or in terms of isolation if they are housebound.
And for those who say ‘well, in Scotland they get it free’; they don’t. There, while the care element might be free, the ‘hotel’ costs of residential care – food, board and lodgings etc – isn’t, so many older people still have to stump up money to pay for their care, including selling their home.
This issue is hugely emotive and could become an issue in the upcoming election. Any party that offers a solution to this ‘problem’ would be onto a sure-fire vote-winner.
The options mooted thus far by Labour and the Conservatives involve insurance schemes, which involve paying a lump sum up front. Labour’s idea is a £20,000 scheme, which would cover the costs of personal care at home and residential care, and while the Tories’ response only costs £8,000, it just covers residential care.
The Liberals meanwhile have sat resolutely on the fence, calling for an all-party commission to come up with a solution, rather than posit any ideas of their own.
None of these options seem to have garnered much public approval so the way forward is unclear.
All it does mean is that the current system creaks on and the reform of it – desperately needed, as organisations within the sector have said time and again – is delayed again.
Perhaps if it does become an election issue, then something might get done. If not, then the Daily Mail, as well as the other national newspapers, will have a guaranteed headline article to publish every few months.