After two white papers from twp successive governments, the Care Act was hailed as a major victory as the next generation of social care for adults. The jewel in the crown of the act was the care cap, limiting the amount any one person would pay for social care within their lifetime. It was the brainchild of Andrew Dilnot, the current chair of UK Statistics Authority, who appeared to have little direct experience of social care, and the cap was perceived to be the end of the so-called social care funding crisis.
The cap was supposed to be implemented in April 2016, although after consultation with the Local Government Association, the government has decided to delay the implementation until April 2020, with many people including myself speculating that the cap will probably be scrapped all together. I am very pleased about this for a number of reasons.
Firstly, like the bedroom tax, it is one of those simple ideas that is actually more complex and costly to implement. In order to calculate the amount of care someone has spent before reaching the cap these ‘self-funders’, who currently have no dealings with local authorities, would be required to be assessed by social workers as if they were existing users, to establish a virtual budget that goes towards what they are seem to have spent. This means that self-funders will not just be able to present bills to social services when they feel they reached the cap, but will only receive the costs they are eligible for, which may be very different.
The initial estimates were that over 1 million virtual assessments across England would be needed within the first year of the cap! Not only will this pull social workers time away from service users in immediate need, but they will be required to confront a new type of virtual service user. Because these users, and their powerful families, will not be in crisis, and will have access to lawyers, if not be lawyers themselves, they will have the time, money and patience to demand every penny they can from social services, virtually, as they will not be interested in needs, risks or outcomes. I would foresee council’s legal departments being tied up for decades debating whether toilet rolls are a legitimate care cost.
Not only would the cap be extremely costly to implement, but I fundamentally disagree with the consumerism of social care it would bring. The reality is technology and policies like Personal budgets, and Personal Health Budgets, means there is no reason why anyone can not stay in their own home unless they require intensive nursing care. This means that care homes are now a lifestyle choice for middle class families, making the cap a tax break only they will benefit from, taking an estimated £6bn out of the social care budget in the next 4 years if the cap had been implemented! And remember this is what the charities fighting to end the crisis in social care funding have been asking for!
I feel that like health, education, and other services, social services should be about delivering the best possible outcomes for an individual, in a manner that is cost effective. This means investing in responsive services that enables and empowers people to be as socially independent as possible, taking the amount of money someone receives out of the equation. Personal Budgets and direct payments are an important part of this, but only to provide people with the support they need when they need it.
I knew from my own understanding that the care cap was going to be a disaster for some time, and it would have meant I may have been left without my support being review for years at a time, not always a bad thing, as social workers became overstretched. I am therefore glad the government has had the foresight to halt the cap before any damage was done, as it is now time to go back to the drawing board.