Cost of care takes centre stage; care savings limits to be lifted to £50,000 by April

(Title Image: BBC Wales)

This is part of a double-bill of debates on paying for social care.

On Tuesday, a separate debate in government time was held on a review carried out by Prof. Gerald Holtham (pdf) – I was unable to cover it due to some technical issues (which seem to have been fixed).

The Welsh Government have announced plans for an inter-ministerial group to further consider the proposals – including a social care levy. The Senedd backed the report by 38 votes to 3 with 10 abstentions – only UKIP seemed to have a problem with it but offered no alternatives.

This second debate, which took place yesterday, was on a report by the Finance Committee covering the same topic.

Fragmented and complicated

Chair of the Finance Committee, Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales), would’ve preferred a more joined-up debate to include the government debate as the issue of paying for care was already fragmented and complicated enough.

Spending on social care has been protected in relevant terms, but spending per-person on the over-65s has decreased due to an increase in the number of over-65s. Unpaid carers – estimated to total 370,000 and carrying out work worth £8billion a year – also face pressures.

“The Committee heard concerns too around financial and staffing pressures in the care sector. We were concerned to hear that, in some cases, providers of domiciliary care are responding by handing back contracts to local authorities as they are not financially viable on the fee levels paid.”
– Committee Chair, Llyr Gruffydd

He spoke of recruitment and retention problems and called for social care staff to be held in the same esteem as those working in the NHS. This was later echoed by Nick Ramsay AM (Con, Monmouth):

“Care Forum Wales said that care workers can often earn more stacking shelves, unbelievably, than working in the sector, or that’s the perception, at least, and that cannot be right. I’m pleased the Minister has committed to raising the profile of social care workers so that it can be seen as a more positive career choice because that was certainly lacking from the evidence that we took from the sector.”
– Nick Ramsay AM

Nick didn’t seem either for or against a social care levy, but did wonder how such a thing would be sold to the public – is it a tax or a form of compulsory insurance?

Demand for care is increasing

Dr Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West) told the chamber he was regularly seeing the increasing demand for social care in his work as a GP, but the threshold at which councils will pay some of the costs was increasing year on year as they try to balance the books.

Simply telling older people they need to pay for more of their own care isn’t a viable option for many and in those cases, the entire burden will fall on the family.

“….we have a partly private system, partly public system, and partly charitable. That’s what health was before Aneurin Bevan insisted on the establishment of a comprehensive national health service to save lives.”
– Dr Dai Lloyd AM

Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales) called for greater use of co-production to allow service users and providers to work together to develop how social care is delivered. This is supposed to be done already as part of regulations made under the Social Services & Wellbeing Act 2014 but isn’t being implemented as intended.

Sustainability at its core

Finance Minister, Rebecca Evans (Lab, Gower) told AMs that a number of the Committee’s recommendations – such as a review of carers assessments and changes to how much people in care can keep in savings and assets – are already being undertaken.

“I’m pleased to confirm the completion of our….commitment to increase the capital that those in residential care can retain without having to pay for their care. This was to raise the figure from £24,000 to £50,000 within this Assembly term. This amount is currently at £40,000 and we intend to raise it to the full £50,000 from April (2019).”
– Finance Minister, Rebecca Evans

A public awareness campaign to emphasise the importance of social care and how it’s paid for will be launched soon too. In addition, a social care levy will be, as said, be investigated as part of the inter-ministerial group announced yesterday.

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