Poor pensioners will be hardest hit by a watering down of social care reforms, the architect of the original cap warned last night.
Sir Andrew Dilnot gave a withering assessment of a change to the way the new social care cap will work, warning it would hurt those in northern constituencies.
Ministers yesterday faced a fierce backlash over the move, which was quietly announced on Wednesday.
Under the change, only people’s personal contributions will count towards the £86,000 cap – the value of any state support they receive will not.
This means that the less well-off, who get Government help to pay their bills, would have to pay out for longer before they hit the cap.
Sir Andrew said the change would mean anyone with assets of less than £186,000 would lose out – affecting around six in ten social care users.
Those with assets of £106,000 or less would be hardest hit by the changes – 30 to 40 per cent of those needing care – but it will not make a difference to those with more than £186,000.
The Prime Minister, pictured onboard a train from Wolverhampton to Coventry rail station yesterday, was warned by Tory MP Stephen McPartland that the social care cap move risked turning voters against the party
Sir Andrew, an economist, said that those living in northern England and in areas with lower house prices are likely to be the worst affected.
And he warned that for people needing significant care for a long time, the change meant the less well-off would not ‘gain any benefit’ from the cap.
The Government said the change – which is likely to save the Treasury £500million – would ensure people ‘do not reach the cap at an artificially faster rate than what they contribute’.
But Sir Andrew told MPs yesterday that there is a ‘sort of North-South axis’ to the plans.
‘On the whole, this will tend to hit less well-off people obviously harder,’ he explained to the Commons Treasury committee.
‘It will tend to hit people in regions of the country with lower house prices harder than it does those in regions with higher house prices.’
Boris Johnson dismissed the criticism, insisting the social care caps would be ‘a massive improvement for everybody in the whole country’.
He told reporters yesterday: ‘What we’re saying is for the first time in history we’re stopping people having to pay unlimited quantities for their care.
‘We’re restricting the amount you can possibly pay to a fixed limit and the state comes in and helps you, the state comes in and helps you as soon as you have assets of £100,000 or less.
Sir Andrew Dilnot said the change would mean anyone with assets of less than £186,000 would lose out – affecting around six in ten social care users
‘And that’s never been done before.’
But the Prime Minister was warned by Tory MP Stephen McPartland that the move risked turning voters against the party.
‘We need to put social care into the hands of our NHS with local GPs at the heart of the service to patients and their families,’ he told the Daily Mail.
‘These “little tweaks” just undermine any trust in the Government and the system as millions of people will believe they are supported when they are not.
‘All MPs hear from families, every week, that have fallen through the cracks or the funding is not available and ask us to intervene, but the care system is broken.
‘It needs to be transparent and clear, these little tweaks always hit the poorest families hardest and turn voters against us as they feel let down.’
Labour’s social care spokesman Liz Kendall said the cap ‘is a complete con’. Referring to the health and social care levy, which will be introduced to pay for the policy, she said: ‘Ordinary working people are facing a tax hike that will do nothing to improve care now, and instead of protecting their parents’ homes, will only protect the homes of the wealthiest in our society.
‘Once again the Tories have failed to stand up for those who need care and their families.’
In 2011, a commission headed by Sir Andrew recommended capping the amount someone should pay for care in their lifetime at between £25,000 and £50,000.
The Government is proposing a lifetime cap of £86,000 from October 2023, with people with assets less than £20,000 paying nothing and those with up to £100,000 contributing to their care.
How can they take away cash they promised?
Commentary by Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK
Caroline Abrahams: Having promised to make a real difference with a reform plan which would – in Boris Johnson’s words – ‘fix’ social care and put an end to ‘catastrophic costs’, we find ourselves in a place that doesn’t remotely measure up
The Government seems to have lost the plot on social care. Having promised to make a real difference with a reform plan which would – in Boris Johnson’s words – ‘fix’ social care and put an end to ‘catastrophic costs’, we find ourselves in a place that doesn’t remotely measure up.
At the beginning of September, to great fanfare, the Prime Minister announced in Parliament a new system that would put an £86,000 cap on the costs of personal care, such as washing, dressing and eating, from October 2023.
For many older people who feared that their care bills would wipe out all they had worked for –and force them to sell their homes in their lifetimes – this seemed to offer them and their families welcome reassurance.
By contrast, the change to the rules announced on Wednesday was issued through a written ministerial statement – the most under-stated form of announcement a Government can make.
So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that it contained bad news – once your assets fall below £100,000 and you start to get some help with care costs from your local council on a sliding scale until those assets reach £20,000, those council contributions won’t count towards the £86,000.
Now we know that the cap will help far fewer people than expected because it will take everyone longer to reach the £86,000 threshold.
In effect, the Government is taking away some of the cash it had allocated to the cap, leaving older people to shoulder more of the cost themselves.
Sir Andrew Dilnot, the key architect of social care reform who gave evidence to the Treasury Select Committee yesterday, made his extreme disappointment clear.
The people who will lose out the most are not those with a lot of money tied up in expensive homes, but those whose homes aren’t worth so much – probably living in the Midlands and the North where house prices are lower.
Not only is social care reform turning into a scheme that will help only the very well-off, it flies in the face of the Government’s levelling-up agenda.
If you wanted to level up, surely you’d have done something that made the better-off contribute more to their care for longer?
Instead, the Government – with the Treasury presumably eager to claw back some money post-pandemic – has done it the other way around.
Many people who had put their faith in this cap now look likely to be disappointed. It means their chances of passing on an inheritance, which we know lots of older people care deeply about, have been diminished – particularly if they haven’t got very much behind them in the first place.
Social care isn’t a nice-to-have extra. It’s an essential service that allows hundreds of thousands of people to maintain some quality of life and/or independence.
It is no secret that the sector is really struggling. Many older people cannot be discharged from hospital because there are too few places in care homes or because care packages to enable them to live in their own homes have not been set up.
Too few care workers are a big cause of the problem. In the absence of any Government action to improve their terms and conditions, care staff are being lured away into retail and hospitality, and sometimes the NHS.
The Government could help by giving care staff a pay rise now, but this week’s development has done little to instil confidence that they’ll make the right call.