A decade of real-terms cuts means the tests deciding who receives state-funded adult care are less generous than nearly a quarter of a century ago, with other cuts leaving some care users more than £1,000 a year worse off, the Observer can reveal.
The government has frozen the thresholds on who qualifies for state-funded care for 11 consecutive years, and the guaranteed minimum income levels for care users are being frozen for the sixth year. Inflation means these are real-terms cuts.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: “This is just another example of how the social care system has been allowed to wither away and is part of a pattern of pushing more and more of the cost on to individual older people.
“Freezing these thresholds means in reality older people are paying more in fees, being charged more for services and – in the case of care home residents in particular – are allowed to keep only miserly sums of money for their own personal needs, including the absolute basics of clothes, shoes and toiletries. It’s high time government made good on its pledges to fix social care once and for all.”
People whose asset wealth is above the “upper capital limit” have to pay the full cost of their care. They qualify for state support only if their assets fall below this level. Those whose wealth falls below the “lower capital limit” don’t have to contribute to their care costs at all. The value of a person’s home counts towards both capital limits if they need residential care.
But after rising each year during the 2000s, the upper and lower limits have been frozen at £23,250 and £14,250 respectively since 2010-11. Calculations by Age UK show that had the upper limit risen with inflation since 2011, it would now be £7,236 higher, with the lower limit £4,435 higher. Both thresholds have effectively been cut by 31% since 2011.
A parliamentary briefing published last year found that the capital limits were less generous in real terms in 2019-20 than they had been in 1998-99, after what will be an 11-year freeze after the government quietly announced in January that this will continue into 2021-22.
The freeze was designed as an austerity measure – to allow local authorities to balance huge funding cuts from central government by raising money by charging care users more. But council care departments have since suffered a decade of service cuts and funding squeezes.
Following the 2011 Dilnot Commission report into the funding of adult care, the then coalition government said it would increase the upper limit fivefold, to £118,000, and the lower limit to £17,000 from 2016 – but this was initially delayed to 2020 and then indefinitely postponed.
As well as the freeze on capital limits, income guarantees for care users have been frozen since 2016. People receiving council-funded adult care still have to pay towards the cost of care services, including from their pension and benefits income. Income guarantees set out the minimum level of money users must be left with after they have been charged for their care.
The prime minister, Boris Johnson, is under increasing pressure to fundamentally reform the adult care system after years of underfunding and delayed promises. Last Wednesday, he told MPs on the Commons liaison committee that the government would bring forward plans for social care reform later this year.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are committed to bringing forward a plan for social care reform this year to ensure everyone is treated with dignity and respect, and to find long term solutions for one of the biggest challenges we face as a society.”