As we get ready for this year's conference season to commence, we're clear about what the Government should be focussing on for older people, writes Age UK.
We want to see a firm commitment to Dilnot and social care reform, and the publication of a white paper and bill to introduce a flat-rate single tier pension.
Care is in crisis with many of those who need help and support in later life being badly let down by a faltering system, while others find themselves having to sell their homes in order to pay for the support they need. Of the 2 million older people in England with care-related needs nearly 800,000 receive no support of any kind from public or private sector agencies. At the same time, the legal framework of the social care system is not fit for purpose. There is a range of legislation, case law and guidance leading to a legal maze that fails to give people the support and clarity they need at what is often the most vulnerable times in their lives.
Age UK has therefore very much welcomed the Government's White Paper and draft Care and Support Bill which were published in July. Together, we believe they have the potential to significantly improve the quality of care available and help create a care system that is fairer and more straightforward for older people and their families.
However, the potential of the proposals outlined cannot be fully realised until the Government faces up to, and resolves, the crucial issue of funding. Without adequate funding, this historic opportunity will be missed and increasing numbers of older people will be without the care they so badly need. The commitment in principle to Dilnot's approach is an important milestone, and we were encouraged by reports over the summer that the Prime Minister is supporting plans to introduce a cap on care costs at the level of £35,000, as recommended by the Dilnot Commission, at the next Comprehensive Spending Review. This would have a hugely positive impact on older people, removing the fear that thousands face of running up catastrophically high care bills they cannot afford to pay. It would also enable younger people to include care in their planning for later life, something which is practically impossible in the current system.
It is true that the Dilnot plan alone will not solve our social care crisis, but it is immensely important because it would create a fair deal for all citizens and give people real assurance about what they may have to pay in future. As such it would represent a historic step forward and something for Government to be proud of. We hope both David Cameron and Nick Clegg will use the opportunity of conference to make a firm commitment to this.
Alongside this, major changes are about to occur in pensions. The Government has said that it will bring forward a Pensions Bill in this session that will introduce the new flat-rate single tier state pension. The aim is for a simpler system with less means-testing which encourages saving by providing more certainty about the state provision.
Age UK very much supports the aim of a single tier state pension above the basic pension credit rate which would provide a fairer, simpler system and particularly benefit those who had low life time earnings due to low pay and caring responsibilities. We hope the Government will stick to its commitment and bring forward a White Paper and Bill this session.
However, as proposed, current pensioners would not benefit from any improvements to state pensions. The Government must not forget the 1.8 million older people who are living in poverty now and should set out a timetable for the reduction and abolition of pensioner poverty and a strategy for achieving this.