Social care charges will pull more into poverty trap, says vice-chairman

Shetland Islands Council’s social services committee has agreed to start charging for providing social care services, including home helps.

But committee vice chairman Allison Duncan opposed the idea, saying it was a sad day that would pull more people into the poverty trap.

The move to impose charges, based on the ability to pay, has always been resisted in the past but will bring the SIC in line with other Scottish local authorities. Friday’s social services committee backed the proposal which will see charges introduced in July.

The corporate services department hopes to make anything up to £815,000 from the new charges. That will go towards its overall savings target of £4 million in 2013/14. The proposal will now go before the full council.

Payment for the home help service is the change which will affect most people, and there will be reductions in “direct payments”, which are given to people who choose to organise their care services themselves.

When the proposed changes were first put before the committee in February it was stated charges will be made for making adaptations to property, depending on the client’s ability to pay, and meals on wheels charges will go up.

However over-65s will be exempt from the charges. They will still get free personal care and help with meal preparation, and will also get help on leaving hospital for a period of 42 days if they need new or additional home care services.

Also exempt are people who receive services under the Mental Health (Care & Treatment Act) Scotland and people who are terminally ill.

Chairman of the committee Cecil Smith said there were harder times ahead and there would be “pain”. He said no-one liked to introduce means tested charges but the financial realities had dictated the move.

Council officials are to start a three month consultation to ensure that anyone who cannot afford to pay will not be charged. A steering group will work out how much people will be asked to contribute.

Vice-chairman of the committee Allison Duncan said he was “totally opposed” to the introduction of charging. He proposed an amendment to have the proposal thrown out but did not get a seconder.

He said: “It’s a sad day when we penalise honest hard-working Shetland residents, it’s bringing more of them into the poverty trap.” He cited the example of people hoping to enjoy their retirement who had been taxed by paying superannuation, taxed when they drew their pension and now being charged again, while those who had never saved would not be charged.

In addition people were facing rent increases, the “bedroom tax” and increasing fuel charges all at the same time.

He said at the meeting that instead of imposing charges there should be council redundancies. He claimed the council did not need a third airport (Tingwall) and their mid-term financial plan had been broken by giving £600,000 from the reserves to Mareel/Shetland Arts.

He added: “We haven’t heard the last of this yet because there still have to be further court settlements.”