The coalition announced this week its long-awaited reforms to how older people should pay for their long-term care, but provided few details on how many younger disabled people would be expected to contribute towards their support.
The Conservative health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced that the new measures would be based on recommendations made by the Dilnot Commission in 2011, with a cap on lifetime care costs for older people of £75,000 – higher than Dilnot had recommended – to be introduced from 2017, as well as a new means-test threshold of £123,000.
Currently only those with assets of less than £23,250 and a “low income” receive help from the state with their care costs.
Hunt told MPs that, from 2017, people who develop care needs before they turn 18 would continue to receive free care, while there would be a lower cap on lifetime care costs for people of working age who develop support needs after 18 but before retirement age.
A Department of Health (DH) spokesman told Disability News Service (DNS): “For the first time ever, we have introduced a measure to help people who develop a care need after 18, but before state pension age.
“This group will now be protected from the astronomical care costs they currently face with a care cap that is below the £75,000 threshold.”
He added: “We are working closely with stakeholders on the details of the reform, including those for working age adults, and will be consulting on the details of these reforms over the summer.”
But Dilnot had recommended that all people with eligible needs who become disabled before the age of 40 should receive free care and support.
He argued that such people should not have to pay towards their support, because they had not had the same opportunities to build up savings and fund their own care as those who develop care needs after retirement.
Dilnot said that those who become disabled after 40 would be expected to make some contribution towards their lifetime care costs, with the total amount they were expected to pay rising by about £10,000 per decade.
Despite repeated requests by DNS, DH has so far been unable to provide any details of the cap for working-age adults, or why Hunt chose to ignore Dilnot’s clear recommendation.
Sue Bott, director of development for Disability Rights UK, said the government needed to explain why it was “rejecting the careful reasoning outlined in Dilnot”.
She said she was concerned that the measures for younger disabled people appeared to be a “disincentive to work”, and at Hunt’s failure to provide a “clear statement” about the support needs of working-age disabled people, which need to be considered “as a matter of urgency”.
She said that charges for care and support were continuing to rise, with reports of disabled people in “real difficulties”.
She added: “The regime of community care charges is out of control and no-one in government is keeping an eye on it and no-one is assessing the impact on disabled people in terms of increasing poverty. This urgently needs addressing.”
Dr Sarah Campbell, who has co-authored reports on social care and welfare reform for the WeAreSpartacus campaign, welcomed the decision on under-18s, which she said would “allow young people to enjoy the same start in life as their peers and an equal opportunity to save for their future”.
But she expressed disappointment that the coalition had ignored Dilnot’s recommendations on working-age people, who would “continue to be severely penalised should they become disabled and require care”.
She said: “Newly disabled people will find themselves facing not only difficult life-changing times but the additional loss of any savings and potential financial hardship as well.”
Under the reforms, disabled and older people will have an assessment carried out by their local authority.
If assessed as having eligible care needs – with a new national eligibility threshold to be introduced in 2015 – they will be told how much it would cost for the council to meet those needs with local services. These costs will then count towards the cap.
Hunt described the reforms as “historic” and a “watershed moment” and said they “prove once again that despite these tough economic times, this government is determined to get behind everyone who has worked hard and done the right thing”.
14 February 2013