Gwenda Thomas, Deputy Minister for Children and Social Services
On 11 July, as part of its publication of a White Paper on care and support in England, the UK Government issued a progress report on the future of paying for social care. This follows the publication last year of the report of the Commission on Funding of Care and Support in England (the Dilnot Commission).
In its progress report the UK Government has confirmed its acceptance of the principle of the key recommendations made by the Commission; namely the introduction of a lifetime cap on the cost of care a person receives and an increase in the asset threshold for those in residential care (the capital limit). It has also announced its intention to introduce these changes in practice but in making this commitment, it has highlighted the very significant funding challenge this presents in the current economic climate. Consequently it has announced that how and when such changes should be introduced will need to be considered as part of the next spending review, scheduled for autumn 2013.
I welcome the fact that the UK Government has now made a response to the Commission’s report and signalled the course of action that it intends to follow for England. However, I am disappointed that its long awaited response does not go beyond this headline commitment and lay out the detail of how and when such recommendations would be implemented.
You will know that the Welsh Government has a long standing commitment to build a new system of paying for social care in Wales that is fair, affordable and sustainable in the long term. Our policies in Wales place us at the forefront of effective care and support. For example last year we introduced a weekly maximum charge of £50 for all those non-residential social services a person receives that are covered by our legislation. I am delighted to see that people across Wales are now benefitting from that change. It is interesting to note that the Commission followed a similarly pragmatic and straightforward approach in making its recommendation around capping an individual's lifetime contribution towards their care costs and that the UK Government has accepted the principle of that approach as a good way forward.
However, the UK Government’s position, outlined in its progress report, does present a significant problem to us in trying to move this agenda on any further at this time. We estimate that the cost of implementing similar changes in Wales to those outlined in the Commission’s Report, should we wish to do so, would be around £100 million a year at today’s costs and rising with the impact of demographic change in coming years. We would therefore be restricted from taking action on this scale without an investment of new money coming to Wales under the Barnett formula, comparable to the significant sums that will be sought for England under the UK Government’s next spending review.
I was interested to see the UK Government’s announcement included proposals for mandatory requirements to defer payment of care costs so that a family home does not need to be sold to move into residential care. In Wales we have had Regulations in place since 2003 which allow deferred payments for residential accommodation and Directions which place a duty on local authorities to draw attention to, and offer deferred payments to, all eligible or prospective residents. This change was introduced with resources of £2.7 million for local government transferred into the Revenue Support Grant. When the details of the UK Government’s proposals are available we will consult with local government and care user interests about whether any strengthening of the deferred payments arrangements in Wales needs to be considered.
In preparation for any future changes you will know that previously we have issued in Wales a Green Paper on paying for care and undertook extensive consultation with a wide range of stakeholders across Wales to find out what kind of system would command broad public support here. More recently I have re-established the Paying for Care Stakeholder Advisory Group and asked it to consider the merits of the Commission’s recommendations and their appropriateness for Wales. It is currently drafting its report to me and I will publish this once I receive it. Also, in light of the UK Government’s stated intentions to undertake further work and consultation on the various options for the shape a reform system could take, we will also want to continue and extend the engagement in Wales. As a result I would also want to establish cross party dialogue about how we tackle this important issue.
The issues highlighted more generally by the UK Government’s announcement and in its White Paper are challenging but a high priority to address. That is why in Wales I have already set out our policy direction in our White Paper ‘Sustainable Social Services: A Framework for Action’ and have completed an extensive consultation on the Social Services (Wales) Bill that will be introduced for scrutiny early next year. I am pleased to report that there is a strong consensus of support for our plans.