The Queen’s Speech and Free Home Care

Today the Queen will announce the government’s programme of legislation for the next year. It is widely reported that free home care for those whose needs fall into the ‘critical’ band will be included in the speech.

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The idea is that it will be a popular vote-grabber. We will be having a General Election within the year and the polls are indicating an increasingly unpopular government so there is a turn to these kinds of headline dominating policies.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that some of the charging policies in place that I have seen have been enormously detrimental but I’m not convinced that a universally available free access is the answer. Especially in times that budgets are being cut. Perhaps better to target broader needs, namely addressing some of the moderate, substantial as well as critical needs and if that has to be done by more stringent means-testing then so be it.

But free care appeals most to the more prosperous middle classes who suffer the most from the current means-testing approaches. Seeing people with lower incomes receiving care free, we move to the somewhat disingenous ‘why should I pay when if I had frittered away all my life-savings I would have gotten the same for free’.

But it isn’t always a level playing field – just as life isn’t. Low income and no savings doesn’t mean money has been frittered. It may mean that the opportunities to earn have not been so available. Life isn’t fair.

But back to Government’s plan. It has stymied the upcoming Green Paper , Shaping the Future of Care Together – consultation on ways of paying for care for a start.

The consultation was due to finish last week but hardly much of a consultation if the government is already planning legislation to cover the costs of critical needs.

The other thing to bear in mind is that Critical needs that the payment is promised for is a very narrow band in that the headlines of ‘free home care’ will probably strike a disappointing blow for most people whose needs will not fall within that remit. I see a tightening of belts further down the line in order to provide the money for this care and that is why I am so sceptical of the approach.

Ultimately, very little is ‘free’.

It is likely this money may be gleaned from Attendance Allowance.  The Daily Mail quotes the Conservative spokesman as saying

‘What is most worrying is that in order to pay for their new National Care Service Labour have promised to scrap disability benefits worth more than £3,000 a year for nearly 2.5million vulnerable pensioners.

‘They also do absolutely nothing for the 100,000 or more people who go into a care home each year. Labour’s plans are all about political point-scoring, not the long-term care of older people .’

There is a point in there but the Conservatives have gone the other way and made a pledge to those going into Care Homes and haven’t provided any idea for those who need care at home and ultimately,  more people will be helped by focusing on the needs of those who need help at home, as opposed to those needing residential and nursing care. It’s not right though and it shouldn’t have to be an ‘either/or’ choice.

Ideally, the policies of the main parties should provide a cohesive approach which is equal whether care is needed in the home or in residential care – rather than making one free and the other not.

Just as the Labour plan will encourage more people to stay at home when perhaps residential care may be more appropriate – so the Conservative plan may persuade  more people into residential care when staying at home with support would be more appropriate.

What is really needed is a consultation across party lines.. oh wait.. didn’t that just happen?

And the irony is that it’s unlikely much legislation presented today will be enacted if there is a government charge so it is partly political posturing in any case.