Labour’s care policy food for thought for rest homes like The Gables
After Labour revealed its election manifesto which leader Jeremy Corbyn promised would be a ‘radical’ offer for ‘real change’, one pledge in particular will have seen those in the care sector sit up and take note.
The manifesto, titled ‘It’s Time For Real Change’, reiterated a promise that had already been aired by shadow chancellor John McDonnell: to provide free personal care to over-65s in England who need it most, covering assistance with dressing, hygiene and meals.
As it stands, state help with the cost of personal care at home or at residences is only available to those whose assets fall below a threshold of £23,250, with Labour’s promise set to double the number of people not having to pay.
Although this may come as welcome news to care providers and those receiving it, some will be treating the pledge with a degree of caution.
First and foremost, McDonnell referred to an ‘eligibility criteria’, which could see some individuals means tested. Furthermore, there is nothing to suggest that the pledge will extend to cover additional social care costs.
Of course, free personal care and free social care are two very different things. Under the existing Scottish mode, where personal care for over-65s is free, those eligible are provided help with issues such as personal hygiene, going to the toilet, diet, mobility, counselling and simple treatments. However, those receiving care are still burdened with their other social care costs, particularly residential care costs which make up the vast majority of social care expenditures. As it stands in Scotland, free personal care allowances would only cover 25 per cent of the weekly costs of a residential care home.
It is the case that this policy enacted in England could be a step in the right direction, however, individuals with persistent and severe care needs could still face high costs. Taking into account the fact that the proposals only cover over-65s, younger adults with disabilities who also make up a large quantity of those in need of social care, will not be accounted for.
For homes like The Gables Rest Home in Lincolnshire, which caters for individuals with autism and complex learning disabilities, this is where the policy may fall short.
Speaking to The Parliamentary Review, The Gables’ care co-ordinator Dominique Pennington discussed some of the financial issues that the home already has to grapple with.
Pennington said: “Non-NHS public funding for adults with care needs is around £50 billion annually. As care providers, we have a duty to operate using our value for money principles and reduce the high costs associated with the sector.
“To cut costs, we began using microeconomic modelling techniques, applying those methods to reduce our costs by increasing efficiency. When operating at full capacity, smaller providers achieve economies of scale. Through our own independent research, we found that smaller providers within our county can offer a saving of £16,432 per annum on complex placements over that of larger institutions. This saving is considerably larger when compared to NHS inpatient placements.
“The under-utilisation of available services may debilitate their effectiveness when competing with large institutions. This would be detrimental to service users and reduce the ability to capitalise on budget-saving opportunities”.
With a decline in spending within the adult healthcare sector, what Pennington felt was required at the government level was a thorough spending review which would see sustainable levels of investment into health, care and local government services in future.
“Spending in the adult healthcare sector is falling, but the population is ageing and growing. A comprehensive spending review is sorely needed to return funding in health, care and local government services to a sustainable level.”
Although a full spending review is overlooked in favour of vast pledges under Labour’s plans, the second half of the policy is something which those in the sector will pay much attention to should Labour be elected.
Within the free personal care pledge, Labour has also promised to cap lifetime care costs, meaning that those with the means to fund their own social care will continue to do so up to a limit, after which the costs are handed to the state. The manifesto quotes that nobody ‘will face catastrophic care costs of more than £100,000 for the care they need in old age'.
With one in ten people aged 65 currently facing future lifetime care costs well over that limit, this part of the policy will likely raise eyebrows in a positive manner. However, the manifesto stopped short of giving exact details on where the cap would be set exactly and at what age this may apply.
For those receiving care, their families and care providers like The Gables, full clarity on this will be needed to gauge whether it truly is something that could work for the benefit of the care system.