Tackling the challenge of a fairer care system

Deputy Minister for Social Services Gwenda Thomas, looks at the funding of long-term care.

The question of who should pay for long-term care is an important issue that will affect many of us at some point in the future. It is an important but difficult issue where there are no easy solutions.

The Green Paper published by the UK Government last week sets out a range of options for reform. It seeks to shape people’s thinking about how social care might be funded in the future through a new system that is fair, simple and affordable for everyone.

It also acknowledges the challenges of growing demographic pressures and aims to put in place a system that will work better for more people in the future. The current relevant legislation operates on an England and Wales basis and although social care is a devolved matter, the UK benefits system that impacts on charging for care is not. Therefore in considering the way forward in Wales, we will work closely with the UK Government.

In Wales we have already completed a wide-ranging programme of consultation and engagement on Paying for Care, details of which are on our website: http://www. payingforcareinwales.net.

These are important developments that have major implications for many people. Once we have had time to consider the England Green Paper carefully, I intend to publish our own Green Paper for Wales on Paying for Care in the autumn and it will be subject to extensive public consultation.

In the meantime we are doing what we can to improve the current system of charging for care in Wales. Two years ago in the One Wales agreement we made a commitment to the people of Wales to create a more level playing field in respect of the amount that individuals have to pay for community-based social services. Earlier this month I had the pleasure of taking this commitment one step closer to reality with the introduction in the National Assembly of proposed new legislation in Wales called the “Social Care Charges (Wales) Measure”.

Local councils provide a range of non-residential social services to assist the daily lives of disabled and older people across Wales. For example, home care, day care, meals and support for carers.

Currently councils decide which of these services to charge for, how much to charge for them and what income and assets to take into account when assessing how much a person should pay.

As a result around 14,000 service users are charged for the services they receive. The Welsh Assembly Government is seeking to amend this current system of charging in order to make it simpler to understand, make it more consistent and to make it fair to all irrespective of where they live in Wales.

Last year I commissioned independent research to find out exactly what was happening across Wales. This clearly showed that there were widespread and significant inconsistencies in charging policies. For example, in 2007-08 one authority charged £5.60 per hour for home care while another charged up to £15.60 per hour. There were also significant differences in the amount that was charged for day care services across Wales.

Last year I established a group of representatives to provide me with advice on how best to address this situation.

The proposed new legislation I have introduced draws on that advice and seeks to provide the powers we need to tackle these inconsistencies. It will now be scrutinised by the Welsh Assembly and, if agreed, will hopefully become law early next year.

If, as I very much hope, this occurs, I then plan to put in place by April 2011 an initial package of improvements which would:

Set a maximum weekly charge of £50 for all of the services someone receives that fall within the new legislation;

Require councils to disregard in full the Constant Attendance Allowance and Severe Disablement Allowance;

Require councils to guarantee that service users will be left with a minimum amount of income after charging;

where councils provide transport to day care centres, they will be required to provide this free of charge;

and require all councils to provide, free of charge, a full list of their charges and an individual statement to service users detailing what services they are being charged for, how much they are being charged, how this was calculated and how the charges can be reviewed.

This proposed new legislation is an important step forward for Wales as it will provide the powers to establish a system for charging that is fair to all, is simple to understand, cost effective to administer and reduces the financial burden on some of our most vulnerable people.

Gwenda Thomas is Deputy Minister for Social Services