How about free personal care?

Featured article - 13 October 2020
By Morgan Vine. Head of Policy and Influencing, Independent Age

Morgan Vine. Head of Policy and Influencing, Independent Age

While coronavirus understandably dominates political thinking space across health and care right now, it was good to hear the Prime Minister again reiterate his commitment to reform the care system in his conference speech last week.

Many of us who rely on the system, and work in the sector are still waiting to discover what this reform will look like and how far it will go. At Independent Age we know that meaningful reform must take a multi-pronged approach, so that people of all ages relying on the social care system get the support they need. It has to find solutions that address overall funding, consider universal entitlements, ensure training and pay of the professional workforce is better, and put in place more robust support for unpaid carers.

Personal care

At Independent Age we’ve been analysing ways the system could be funded and have now published a new briefing looking at one of the many funding reform options on the table: free personal care. Free personal care has been available to people in Scotland since 2002. Earlier this year our policy team spent time talking to people in later life, their families and Directors of care services in Scotland about their experiences of free personal care to find out what lessons could be learnt about the experience north of the border to inform discussions in England.

From our conversations, it’s clear that many people receiving care, and their families, feel they have benefited from the introduction of free personal care and continue to do.

Doreen, who is 55, describes the impact of free personal care when arranging care for her mother:

It was amazing, because it was something we didn’t have to worry about – we were already worried 24/7 about my mum …There wasn’t any question of us having to fight for it, or in any way put ourselves under pressure to have to arrange all this.

Yet, our new research also showed that there have been significant challenges with the policy in Scotland. You can read about these in more detail in the briefing, but some of the issues we highlight include:

  • Lack of clarity over what would be included under the definition of personal care
  • Lack of fairness across care locations with personal care costs fully covered at home but only representing a small discount on care bills in a residential care setting
  • Insufficient funding leading to squeezed access to care overall
  • Gaps in the care workforce leading to challenges providing continuity of care which we know is so important to many people.

All these issues have had a negative impact on many individual’s experiences of accessing and receiving care, and in some cases they have meant that people just aren’t getting the support they really need to live an independent and fulfilling life.

For me the most important takeaway from this work is that we can’t think about individual policies in isolation. A universal entitlement like free personal care will only deliver benefits if it sits alongside a long-term stable funding settlement which enables the Care Act to be delivered as intended and support people to live full and active lives. The Government must also not forget the support required by unpaid family carers and the need clear plans to tackle workforce shortages when planning reform. We need a broad and comprehensive package of reforms to really deliver the change we all want to see.

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