Call of Duty v Community Care Law
Prior to the Spring budget, Conservative MP David Mowat suggested that we all have a duty to provide care for our elderly parents, just as we provide care for our children. This can’t be seen in isolation from the policies currently under discussion in the run up to yet another social care green paper which was announced alongside the Budget.
It is widely acknowledged by the media, expert commentary and by the leader of the opposition that the £2bn additional funding for social care announced in Hammond’s Spring Budget is at best a stopgap and an inadequate one, at that. This funding, spread over the next three years, will do little to heal the damage caused by seven years of cuts, at almost three times this figure. This is particularly the case as it has been introduced at a time that the UK population, in the over 75 age group, is rapidly increasing. But what are the alternatives?
Higher income households, or those with very significant assets, will probably be able to save to fund their care or to cover costs from their existing savings. However, those who don’t have sufficient income will need their children to respond to this call of duty.
Another option being considered is a tax relief, alongside the development of “Care ISAs” as a means of encouraging people to save for their old age.
I don’t believe it is realistic or fair to expect people to save for their old age at a time when the average income of working age people has fallen below that of pensioners. Pensioners will be all too aware that this income discrepancy does not mean they are cash rich. What these findings reflect is the extremely low average wage that most working people are managing on. The same group expected to “put aside” now for their own care later are those facing unprecedented rises in housing costs and insecurity.
For disabled people, who are likely to have a higher expectation of increased care costs in older age, the situation is even bleaker. With income from benefits and Local Authority funding having been cut back to a bare minimum, most people are using everything they earn cover their existing outgoings to retain a semblance of independence.
Less than 20 years ago, one average full time wage was sufficient to support a whole family. Now most households need two full time incomes which means struggling to balance work with caring responsibilities, whether for children or adult family members. Most of these people will be dealing with under resourced public services resulting in long waiting times for NHS services, funding issues with their Local Authority and seeing services they’d previously relied on being closed.
Every week we hear about our failing NHS system putting patients at risk; alarming rises in the level of people with unmet care needs; and a care home system that is on the brink of collapse. Increased central government funding, alongside fair, proportional income tax or National Insurance contributions, with less funds being diverted into the private sector; must be given equal consideration in these discussions.
Our community care law team assist people on daily basis who struggle to access health and social care. Given current average incomes and expenditure, the idea that these problems could be solved by adults meeting a duty of care to their parents or by saving responsibly for their own futures is not only unrealistic but also offensive. Public services may be stretched, but the legal duties of public bodies towards vulnerable people are still intact.
This Government’s divisive call of duty obscures the fact that social issues should be of collective concern to all. Whether we are working and struggling to manage existing responsibilities or unable to work through ill health, or an older person who is becoming increasingly isolated and dependent, we must have public services that are properly funded to meet their legal obligations.
It is our job as community care lawyers to make sure that health and social services comply with their statutory duties.