West Dunbartonshire’s huge hike in care costs

TAXES on disabled people have risen faster in West Dunbartonshire than anywhere else in Scotland.

The local authority has increased its care tax rate by 150 per cent since 2008 – which has sparked criticism from Learning Disability Alliance Scotland.

In a recent newsletter, the organisation stated: “It may be that councils feel they have to do this because of the council tax freeze but is it fair?”

Eight local councils have hiked their care tax rate over the past three years, with some of the most vulnerable people in the community being hit directly in the pocket. A flat rate charge of £20 per week in West Dunbartonshire was replaced by a maximum charge of £50 per week in December.

Scottish Socialist Party councillor Jim Bollan hit out at West Dunbartonshire Council’s SNP-led administration for rubber-stamping the price hike. He said: “The 150 per cent increase in charges, from £20 a week to £50 a week, implemented by the SNP for some of the most severely disabled people in our community is quite appalling and cannot be justified.

“That six unelected NHS officials also had a vote in this decision at the council committee is extremely concerning.

“The Tory government is cutting the benefits of some of the most vulnerable members of our communities and the SNP council is actively supporting these attacks by implementing a savage 150 per cent increase in care charges.”

Council leader Ronnie McColl insists that the increases have been necessary to cover costs and that this area’s overall charges are still reasonable, despite the sharp hike, because West Dunbartonshire always had among the lowest charges.

However, Capability Scotland, a charity for disabled people, insists that all councils are imposing excessive charges. Richard Hamer, Capability Scotland’s director of external affairs, said: “There is no doubt that disabled people across Scotland are being charged far too much for the essential care and support they receive from local authorities.

“Care charges are having a devastating effect on many disabled people; making it impossible for them to live independently and to enjoy the opportunities and experiences that many of us take for granted.

“Capability is particularly concerned that many local authorities don’t give enough consideration to the other extra costs that come from being disabled when they’re calculating these charges.

“The cost of transport, higher energy bills and essential equipment that many disabled people face really add up and make it very difficult for many to meet the cost of care.

“We want the Scottish Government and local authorities to address this issue immediately to ensure that disabled people are no longer forced into poverty and isolation.

“Capability is working with CoSLA (Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) to ensure that their guidance on care charges reflects the views and experiences of disabled people.”

Councillor McColl, who is also West Dunbartonshire’s social work convener, said: “All our charges are checked and if someone can’t afford to pay the costs then they won’t be charged that amount. We won’t withdraw a service if the person doesn’t have the ability to pay.

“Historically, West Dunbartonshire has charged among the lowest in Scotland for social care so, even with the increases, we still have some of the lowest overall costs in the country.

“It’s a shame we’ve had to put them up but it’s not as if we are trying to make a profit. We must increase the charges to recover costs.

“The idea is that those who can afford to pay something towards the service will make a contribution and those on benefits will pay a proportion of their benefits towards their care.”

A spokeswoman for the local authority added: “Our new means-tested policy ensures residents who are in a financial position to pay for services contribute to their care.

“Many of the allowances and benefits including Attendance Allowance, which is paid to service users, are intended to be used to fund care provision. The charging policy will depend on levels of service provided to individual service users and their own income levels.

“The council believes the introduction of a maximum charge is a fairer system for all and will benefit the poorest and most vulnerable residents in West Dunbartonshire.

“Furthermore, the policy will ensure that residents who need support will continue to receive it, while residents who are financially able to contribute to their care will continue to do so.

“The council has undertaken significant work to assist service users and has for a number of years provided a welfare rights and money advice service which assists service users to maximise their income levels and also check the benefits residents receive to ensure everyone is claiming their maximum benefits.”