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Blog: It’s got to be Dilnot

BASW England manager Ruth Cartwright responds to today’s press reports of a government U-turn on social care funding for the elderly…

What a pleasant surprise it was to awake this morning to the news that the coalition government has changed its mind on social care funding.

Many felt that July’s somewhat disappointing care and support white paper had been sneaked out just before parliament summer recess in order to minimise the inevitable backlash from the sector.

Now we have the news that the care and support bill will be amended to closely follow many of the Dilnot commission’s recommendations. Has Olympic spirit, with its stirring opening ceremony tribute to the NHS, so inspired our politicians to change their previously hard-hearted stance on funding for the elderly?

Or is it more likely that they are now looking to create a political legacy of their own? This may even be an opportunity for the Conservatives to redeem themselves after they torpedoed initiatives in the last days of the Labour government with their political game-playing and references to ‘death tax’.

Either way, BASW welcomes the resolve of David Cameron and Nick Clegg to take seriously the matter of funding for adult social care both now, and in the future.

It is expected that plans to cap care home fees at £35,000, meaning that many will not be forced to sell their homes to pay for the cost of care will be formally announced in the autumn, as part of a coalition “re-launch”.

The basic principle behind Dilnot is not about whether older people, be they cash poor or financially solvent, should have to sell their homes and deprive their adult offspring of an inheritance.

It is a much simpler concept still, that of fairness.

As with health treatment, all should pay in through taxation and national insurance according to their means, and all should receive help and support according to their needs.

I pay for doctors and hospitals, but hope to be able to steer well clear of them and not require their services, and so it should be with social care, with advice and support equally available to all.

The question of funding remains. Where will this estimated £2 billion of additional money needed come from? The Government seems to have a jolly big sofa behind which they find money when necessary (or politically expedient perhaps), but the likeliest source is the NHS.

To be brutally honest, I am not too distraught about this – the NHS owes the social care sector big time for the huge number of hospital beds for older people that they have been able to close over the last couple of decades, because of our work in keeping people living in the community as independently as possible.

There are two flies in the ointment as far as I am concerned – one is the potential involvement of the private insurance industry, which has not covered itself in glory as far as schemes to assist older people to pay for care are concerned, and the other is the delay as these changes will not be implemented until 2017.

Flies aside, we also have another creature to concern ourselves with, notably the gigantic elephant in the room that is the issue of assistance for people in need of care and support and their carers.

The eligibility criteria by which people access services is being ever tightened and charges for services are being raised. There are many people out there who are not receiving the care they both need and deserve. They also tend to be the people who are of least interest to the government, as they do not own property and are at the poorer (and less vocal) end of the spectrum. We must not, and indeed cannot (as many of them are people we are working with), forget their plight.

I sincerely hope that the coalition will maintain its new found harmony on this issue and that Labour and other parties will also support the full implementation of Dilnot, while resisting the temptation to think that this decision is a magic wand for all of social care’s ills.

So, social workers, keep your eye on further developments, be ready to join with BASW as we respond to these initiatives, and apply the “fairness test” – will these changes help all your service users, or just help the government to win votes?