News | Published September 23 2019

Labour promise free personal care for over-65s in England

The Labour Party has pledged to provide free personal care to over-65s in England.

The pledge means that assistance with washing, dressing and preparing meals will no longer be chargeable for the beneficiaries.

Think tank The King's Fund estimates the measure will cost around £6 billion a year in 2020-21, rising to as high as £8 billion by 2030. 

Funding for the pledge will come from general taxation according to shadow chancellor John McDonnell.

Labour is set to include more details of how the personal care pledge will be financed in its next election manifesto, but it already goes well beyond the promises made in its 2017 manifesto which included raising the minimum asset threshold for access to free care and capping the lifetime amount that any individual will pay for care.

As it stands, anyone requiring care over the age of 65 in England, with savings in excess of £14,250, must contribute toward the cost of residential care or care home costs as applicable. 

The current means-tested system also declares that anyone holding assets in excess of £23,250 including property must pay for the full cost of residential care without council assistance.

The proposed care overhaul will roughly double the number of people not having to pay for personal care and replicate the Scottish system where personal care is free of charge to those most in need.

Preparing to address the Labour Party conference on Monday, McDonnell will say in his speech that a Labour government will seek to pass legislation guaranteeing a right to free personal care.

The system will come with “eligibility criteria" to ensure that it works for everyone and is reserved for those most in need.

The Conservatives have responded with scepticism. 

Prime minister Boris Johnson has already promised that his party will put an end to the crisis in social care while lampooning Labour's plans, saying “there simply won’t be enough money" to finance a social care overhaul on top of Labour’s current spending commitments.

In the government’s Spending Round in September, ministers announced that an additional £1.5 billion would be set aside for social care and that the Conservatives would consider allowing councils to raise extra funds toward care by raising council tax.

Labour's own spending commitments to date include scrapping prescription charges in England and removing charitable status from private schools to begin integrating them into the state sector. It will also look to scrap the Conservatives' Universal Credit benefit.

Labour's pledges will see the party spend an extra £8 billion a year over five years, which will include further support to local authorities to ensure services are not outsourced to the private sector.

The shadow chancellor will then take aim at Conservative austerity cuts in his upcoming speech, which he will say have left "87 people dying a day waiting for care".

Measuring up personal care figures from Scotland, Labour believes that the pledge could save individuals funding their own care around £10,000 a year, while making 70,000 less families liable for lifetime care costs which can accumulate to over £100,000.

McDonnell will also say that by removing the distinction between health and care needs, Labour will help the families facing the highest costs and remove a great deal of strain from the NHS. 

The party will also look to close the gap in social care funding.

The prepared speech reads: “I believe the right to dignity in retirement is a part of that right to health at any stage of life.

"The truth is our social care sector is a national scandal. The next Labour government will introduce personal care free at the point of use in England.

"Funded not through the Conservatives' gimmicky insurance schemes but, like the NHS and our other essentials, through general taxation.”

In light of the high cost, The King's Fund welcomed Labour's pledge but warned that "it is not the same thing as free social care" and will still leave individuals and families having to pay "catastrophic costs".

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Authored by

Scott Challinor
Business Editor
September 23 2019

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