Last week Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt set out the Government’s long awaited plans for reforming adult social care funding in England. 

The announcement builds on some of the recommendations of the Dilnot report - which was published nearly two years ago.  The Government has said that from April 2017, there will be a lifetime cap on care costs of £75,000 for people over state pension age.  The reception from most of the media was overwhelmingly negative, with many focusing on freezing inheritance tax and the fact that the cap is much higher than was recommended by the Dilnot Commission.

The coverage was so negative, in fact, that it may have obscured some good news. For disabled people, at least one part of the announcement was potentially very positive – confirmation that people with eligible care needs should not have to pay for their support.  Disabled people who have eligible care needs before their 18th birthday will receive free care and support for life and people who develop eligible care needs before retirement age will have a lower cap on their care costs. In addition to this, the threshold below which all people receive means tested support to help pay for their residential care is being increased from £23,250 to £123,000.  This will potentially mean that more people are given help to meet the costs of care.

However, the cap represents only a very small part of the social care system.  How effective it is in reality depends on other factors, such as the national level of eligibility for care and at what level the ‘standard rate care costs’ will be set, as this rate is what will be used as a calculation to count towards the cap and not what is actually paid for care.  Without further details of these elements, it is difficult to anticipate exactly how people will be affected.

Furthermore, while the cap is a step forwards in protecting people from the costs of care, it does little to solve the underlying current care crisis.  Since 2010, more than £1.3 billion has been cut from local authority social care budgets and the number of councils who only provide care to those with ”substantial"  or  "critical"  needs has risen from 59% in 2005/06 to 81% in 2011/12.  The number of people who need care and support is increasing rapidly, but the resources available to support them have not risen proportionately.  The extra funds announced by the Government will help to implement the cap, but will not solve the problem of chronic underfunding within social care.

The Government’s announcement also does nothing to help those who do not currently qualify for support.  The key to helping those who are falling outside of the system is the level at which the Government sets its new national eligibility criteria for care.  United Response is working closely with the Care and Support Alliance to call on the Government to ensure that eligibility criteria are set at "moderate" and not at "substantial" levels of need.  That way, more disabled people would qualify for free care, enabling them to live more independent lives and potentially saving money further down the line. The cap on care costs is a promising start to changing the way social care is funded, but there is still a long way to go before the system is reformed in a way that is proactive rather than reactive and that makes it fair for everyone.

Rachel Bowen, Campaigns Officer.