This week the Prime Minister announced the government’s plan to put additional resource into the NHS and fix the broken funding system for social care.
Social care is an issue that successive governments have failed to address. So whatever one makes of the plan to fix the system, the Prime Minister deserves credit for tackling an issue that others have kicked into the long grass for decades.
The ramifications are significant here in Shropshire, where just under 30% of the population is aged over 65, compared to 18.5% across the country. So clearly, demands on the local social care system are profound, and likely to grow as life expectancies continue to increase, thanks to healthier lifestyles and advances in modern medicine. The burden on local authorities has been funded in recent years through extra Council Tax precepts.
The pandemic has put huge pressure on the NHS, despite the heroic efforts of staff, and while urgent care continued, there is now a significant backlog of elective and routine treatments which must be addressed. This includes surgeries like hip replacement, knee surgery, and cataract treatment, all of which can severely limit quality of life if delayed.
To counter this, the PM announced funding for a million more operations to take place next year, with NHS capacity boosted by 10% over the next three years. Funding will then taper away into the care system, once the backlog has been addressed.
The way in which families currently fund care can impose a catastrophic burden, especially for dementia care. Under the current care system, anyone with assets over £23,350 pays for their care in full. This can lead to spiralling costs and the eventual liquidation of a family’s assets, including the family home. Around one in seven people now pay over £100,000 for care costs.
So adjusting the means test and introducing a cap on the cost of care of £86,000 from October 2023, will make a significant difference to the lives of many people in care in South Shropshire. No one with less than £20,000 in savings or housing wealth will have to pay for their care.
In order to pay for these changes, the PM outlined a new dedicated Health & Social Care levy of 1.25% on National Insurance. But unlike normal NI charges on earnings, this levy will be also apply to dividend income and earnings by pensioners still working, While no tax rise is welcome, I recognise the pandemic required the NHS backlog to be fixed and the social care funding nettle to be grasped. This has to be paid for.