14,000 people paying for community care

THERE are 14,000 people in Wales who currently pay for community care services. These services allow disabled people to live at home with dignity and independence and include things like help with getting washed and dressed in the morning, and getting into bed at night.

Research commissioned by the Welsh Assembly Government last year shows that charges for these services vary significantly across Wales – it is literally a postcode lottery.

In fact, in two neighbouring South Wales council areas last year you would pay £16.20 a week for home care in one, while if you lived in the other you could be paying £200 a week.

The Coalition on Charging Cymru is an alliance of Welsh voluntary sector organisations, which has been campaigning since 2001 to have these charges scrapped.

We represent different people who are affected by community care charges – for example people with arthritis, visual impairment, autism as well as age-related conditions.

We believe that charging imposes a second tax on older people, disabled people and carers, simply because they require support with everyday tasks.

Furthermore, as working disabled people do not pay charges on any community care support, many of those who are charged live on low, fixed incomes and are mainly dependent on disability-related benefits and pensions.

Charging pushes people further into poverty and can leave them cut off from society.

Recently, the Coalition on Charging Cymru gave evidence to the National Assembly’s legislation committee about making the charging system in Wales fairer.

We were discussing a very important piece of legislation called the social care charging measure – it is important because it could potentially lead to the scrapping of home care charges in Wales altogether.

It is actually designed to standardise the way charges for home care are applied across Wales, in order to tackle our postcode lottery.

But we fear that Welsh Assembly Government proposals to introduce a £50-a-week maximum fee for home care charges will leave many people worse off.

Our concern is that some local authorities may view that £50 as a basic charge that everyone receiving home care services in their area will have to pay regardless of income or the number of weekly hours of support they receive.

It also worries us significantly that there are no standardised eligibility criteria in Wales.

This means that each social services department in each local authority sets its own rules regarding who is eligible to receive community care support.

We know that in many cases only those deemed in “critical” or “substantial” need receive a service and the definition of level of need varies from one authority to the next.

This postcode lottery of confusion and inequality will remain until the Assembly Government seizes the initiative and takes assertive action.

This is the only way that we can make sure that many service users, particularly those paying less than £50 per week – won’t be worse off.

If charges increase for those paying less than £50 per week, family financial pressures will be increased and people who need these vital service may find they’re no longer able to afford them.

Sadly, we already know that there are people who are not able to get the home-care services that they need because they are too expensive.

The Coalition on Charging Cymru is going to continue its campaign to have community care charges scrapped.

But we are under no illusion that this will happen overnight.

There have been many twists and turns in our attempts to achieve our goal – and we remember all too well the Assembly Government’s 2006 climbdown on plans to introduce free home care.

However, every attempt to address this matter exposes that charging is unjustifiable and brings us closer to the day when no-one has to pay additionally for state support simply to get out of bed.

Rhian Davies is chair-woman of the Coalition on Charging Cymru