Brits willing to pay an extra penny on income tax to fix social care crisis
A damning survey for the Daily Express reveals two-thirds of those aged 55-plus support the increase. And 41 percent across all age groups agree that a ring-fenced general tax increase is the best way forward. They want an end to the scandal of pensioners handing over their savings and selling their homes to pay for care. The system’s failings have been cruelly exposed by the coronavirus pandemic.
And as the clear signs of frustration emerged, Health Secretary Matt Hancock pledged radical reform.
He said yesterday: “We absolutely need to make these reforms to social care, which in my view have been pushed to the side for too long.
“I’m very keen to push through reforms which I know readers of the Daily Express are interested in.
“We were trying to reform the system this year, before the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s not straightforward now, but reforms include further financial and closer working ties with health.
“Injustices around how social care is paid for also need to be taken away.”
Our poll found more than half of the 2,094 adults aged 55-plus (58 percent) believe it is unacceptable to force the older generation to sell their family homes to pay care home bills. And 49 percent across all ages agreed.
Almost the same number (54 percent) believe it is unfair to put property or a hard-saved nest egg into a means test to qualify for financial help.
The average cost of a care home place is around £700 a week.
Jan Shortt, general secretary of the National Pensioners Convention, said: “We welcome the findings of the Daily Express survey which chime with our own into social care reform and how it should be funded.
“Two years ago our members were consulted on the type of care services they want to have and who they want to deliver them.
“Overwhelmingly, we have been told that people would pay extra tax and National Insurance to a ring-fenced budget.
“It would provide care services that are publicly owned and delivered, tailored to individual need rather than funding.
“Around 84 percent of beds in care homes are owned by private providers, some of whom are equity-funded companies with suspicious financial structures, normally with a parent company in the United States.
“Profit making has no place in care services – where the most needy and vulnerable rely on others to keep them safe and well.
“A National Care Service, funded by taxation like the NHS, publicly delivered and accountable is the way forward from the devastating loss of life in care homes and the strategy of chronic underfunding employed by successive governments.”
However, canny Britons do not believe care homes and the care system should enjoy a bottomless pot of money.
As many as 57 of those asked believe the residences are poor value for money and just over half support a national flat rate care home fee.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: “After so much sadness and loss within social care it is encouraging to see this public support for a tax rise to fund better services. But the widespread scepticism this poll found about the value for money from some care homes needs some consideration too.
“Of course there’s a need for more public investment – and the chances are we will all have to contribute to that in some way.
“But it also seems there’s an appetite for considering whether the model of care on offer at the moment is what everyone really wants for themselves and their loved ones.”
Two-thirds of the nation support the Daily Express crusade which calls for a Minister for Older People to make sure their voice is heard around the Cabinet table.
In the last five years there has been a £160million cut in total public spending on older people’s social care – despite rapidly increasing demand. As many as 1.5 million people aged 65-plus do not receive any help with shopping, washing, cooking or any essential living activities they need to continue to live in their own home.
Mike Padgham, chair of provider organisation The Independent Care Group, said: “The Daily Express is to be applauded for taking the initiative and asking these important questions about the future of social care in this country. We wholeheartedly agree with the vast majority of what the survey found.
“The ICG has been campaigning for many years for an end to the unfair situation where people have to sell their home to pay for care. We have always believed that people would be prepared to pay a little more in income tax or NI in return for a properly-funded and effective social care system for free. A minister for older people and those with disabilities would be an excellent voice for the sector.
“I cannot agree, however, with the finding that care homes are poor value, given the amazing levels of complex care and the ever-shrinking money that care commissioners pay to providers to pay for that care. However, a minimum flat rate for care, which reflects the true cost of provision, would be a fair solution and iron out variations across the country.”
COMMENT BY LEO McKINSTRY
No part of Britain has been more badly ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic than the social care sector.
Tragically, those who are most in need of protection are the very people most likely to be abandoned in the face of this lethal menace.
Nearly 15,000 victims of Covid-19 have been care home residents in England and Wales, according to shocking new figures from the Office for National Statistics.
Moreover, data collected by Public Health England has revealed that about 40 percent of the country’s care homes have been hit by it.
If a civilisation can be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable members, the modern British state is failing miserably in its duties. A terrible price has been paid by those at the greatest risk. Care homes should be places of sanctuary and comfort, not arenas of contagion and fear.
Little more than two months ago, as the crisis worsened, official guidance stated that “it remains unlikely that people receiving care in a care home or in the community will become infected”.
How absurdly complacent those words sound today, with fatalities still soaring. But it is precisely this complacency, coupled with indifference and ill-judged priorities, that fuelled the care home scandal.
With all the Government’s energies focused on the NHS, the needs of social care were ignored. Supplies of personal protective equipment for both staff and residents were woefully inadequate. The testing regime was far too narrow in scope.
While the public self-isolated, many elderly residents were still crammed together in communal rooms, making a mockery of social distancing.
Even worse, there is evidence that some residents with the virus were shunted back into their homes from hospitals.
The Prime Minister recently promised an additional £600million for infection control in care homes. Though a welcome sum, it is both late and limited.
Far more needs to be done to reverse the culture of institutional neglect. The present crisis reflects a brutal, deeper reality that social care is often treated as a second-class service.
Staff are undervalued and unpaid, with more than half of frontline workers getting less than the living wage. Finances are insufficient to meet running costs, while the system of funding is built on injustice, where residents have to pay full fees if they have assets worth more than £23,000. It is a lottery that means many of them have to sell their family homes.
And the disdain for this sector exposes the dark ageism within our society. All forms of discrimination are meant to be outlawed in modern Britain, but contempt for the elderly still seems an acceptable prejudice.
This unfairness has to end. For decades, politicians of all sides have promised reform but failed to deliver. There have been at least 17 White Papers on social care but no real action.
When he became Prime Minister last July, Boris Johnson declared he had “a clear plan” to “give every older person the dignity and security they deserve”. But nearly a year later, there is still no sign of this plan.
It can only be hoped that the coronavirus crisis will finally galvanise the political class.
The terrible death toll should act as a clarion call for a new deal in this sector. The outline of such a settlement is obvious.
First, it should be pushed through by an all-party consensus. Social care is far too important a question to be used as a political football.
Second, the system should come under the oversight of the NHS, ending the bogus demarcation between heath and social care.
Third, there should be beefed up regulation from a more powerful Care Quality Commission.
Above all, imaginative ideas should be put forward to increase funding, such a levy on National Insurance, the encouragement of long-term personal savings through Care ISAs, a surcharge on inheritances, and a more robust crackdown on tax avoidance.
If we can build a truly humane, safe system, then some good will have come out of the coronavirus catastrophe.
A national embarrassment could be turned into a source of pride.
Leo McKinstry is a political commentator for the Daily Express
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