20 Oct Why the disabled population of the UK are taking the most hits from policy changes
A key part of Boris Johnson’s manifesto in the run up to the December 2019 General Election lay in his sweeping promise to ‘fix social care’. His first speech as Prime Minister, also in 2019, included a statement saying that they already had a plan in place for social care in the UK. This plan was finally announced on 7 September 2021, and it represents a huge blow to the disabled population in particular.
Rouzbeh Pirouz | Social care for the disabled population – what’s changing?
My primary role centres around Pelican Partners, the private equity firm I co-founded. But I also have a physical disability which has inevitably shaped my view on social care and funding for other people.
I am passionate about my support of disabled people worldwide and particularly interested in how the UK Government plans to improve them after a decade of austerity.
The recent announcement does not fill me with confidence for the future social care and support of disabled people.
It centres around tax increases affecting dividends and National Insurance, aimed at raising £12 billion a year.
This increase in National Insurance breaks the manifesto promise made by the Conservatives before the General Election. The tax rise on the lowest paid and middle classes will be the highest since the 1950s, with a 1.25% increase for employers and employees.
While this may sound good news for social care and, therefore, for disabled population, most of the revenue generated by these tax increases will go towards the NHS.
How much will the disabled community and social care receive?
From the estimated £36 billion that will be accrued over the next three years, only £5.3 billion will go towards social care.
According to the Government, this is enough to cover all elderly and disabled people and their living costs.
However, experts maintain that it will take at least an extra £8 billion every year to get the country’s social care back to how it was in 2009/10.
Social care is a multi-faceted area and, as such, needs staggered support. In some cases, social care funding is necessary for lifelong support for disabled people. Or it may be required for elderly people to live out their lives in comfort in a care home.
Although the NHS is free at source, which is a system that also needs as much funding as possible, social care is not.
Disabled population are worse off than they were a decade ago.
Since 2009, the Conservative policy of austerity has stripped social care to the very barest bones.
Currently, the system is convoluted and often extremely unfair. Care solutions are provided by a mix of charities, individuals and private companies managed by local authorities.
Since 2009, state funding for social care has dropped by £8 billion. At the same time, the demand for help has risen and continues every year.
As people live longer, more people inevitably need assistance from social care, including millions of disabled people.
Many disabled people are left to try and fund their own care, and costs increase regularly. Others simply cannot afford to fund their care, and they have to live without it, regardless of the level of physical or mental disability they’re living with.
Is there are a threshold for disabled people to pay their own costs?
Right now, disabled people with assets (usually a home) worth in excess of £23,250 has to pay for their own social care.
The upcoming changes will be implemented in April 2022 and will mean that disabled people or elderly people with assets worth less than £20,000 will have their social care costs paid in full.
People with assets worth between £20,000 and £100,000 will be liable for their own social care costs up to £86,000. They might be able to access some kind of assistance, which will be measured on a sliding scale.
From this, we can surmise that some disabled people and elderly people who need care will benefit from reduced costs. However, the changes are more heavily geared towards ensuring those who own houses won’t lose the legacy they leave.
This is no good for young people who need help now and who may not have any assets. It also doesn’t work for elderly people, whether disabled or not, who need assistance but have no savings. Nor does it offer support for disabled workers or disabled people keen to get into the workplace.
The demise of social care in England
Increased cuts combined with inexorable outsourcing of social care to private companies has severely damaged the chances of disabled people accessing the care they need.
A decade of austerity followed by Brexit and the impact of COVID-19 are making the outlook for disabled people who need assistance even bleaker.
Last year, according to the Care Quality Commission, a sixth of social care providers in England failed to meet even basic standards.
The system is also suffering from staff shortages, exacerbated by Brexit. Care staff are typically paid less than a real living wage. The work is difficult and often exhausting, both mentally and physically.
I believe change must begin inside the system by improving conditions for social care staff. This needs to include higher wages, fair contracts and decent sick pay and holiday pay.
Disabled people in employment often need assistance too
About half of previous care budgets have gone towards disabled people of working age.
The new changes will mean that pensioners may not have to sell their houses to fund their care. However, for a 25-year-old with a mental or physical disability, this means nothing.
The majority of disabled people want to live independently if they can and may need different forms of support to do so. It’s not a one size fits all problem and cannot be solved by a one size fits all solution.
Disabled people want the same rights as everyone else – to go to work, socialise, and access public spaces and the assistance they need. At the moment, social care is restricted to the basics, and for many disabled people, even this is out of their reach.
What could the alternative be to suit disabled people better?
The TUC says that an entirely different long-term approach would create enough money to fund social care well into the future.
They suggest that increasing capital gains tax rather than NI would bring it in line with income tax and bring in around £17 billion.
Disabled people have been waiting for the Government to help them with better social care and improved accessibility for many years. This new plan will, unfortunately, not be the news they’ve been waiting to hear.
A research project by BBC News shows that many disabled people – including those in employment – are struggling with the constantly increasing costs of all forms of social care and assistance.
This ranges from access to in-home assistance to get washed, dressed and fed to crucial social clubs and outlets.
The research found that some adults with learning disabilities, for example, are paying thousands more every year than they used to.
Costs of social care rising every year for people who can’t afford it
From the 150+ regions that the BBC asked for information, 41 came forward. From these, bills for all disabled users of the services had increased by 10% in just two years. The local authorities say this is because of central Government cuts.
A case study from the BBC covers Saskia Granville. A young adult with learning difficulties, Saskia lives in supported accommodation. The amount she has to pay has increased by more than 400%, from £92 per month to £515.
This is just one example of millions of people in the same boat. Collectively, the amount disabled people are liable to pay for basic care increased from £369 million in 2019 to £420 million today.
These huge increases are forcing some of the worst off in society to plug the growing gap in state funding. According to Mencap, the charity for people with learning difficulties, this leads some to choose between paying for care and paying for food.
And for those who think that the answer is for disabled people to get a job, there are significant barriers there too. It’s difficult enough for mentally and physically disabled people to break into the workplace.
The disabled population is massively underrepresented in all industry sectors compared with the general population.
People with learning disabilities find it even more challenging to find a job and pay for their everyday needs, including social care. Only 6% of the adult [population living with learning difficulties is in employment. With these barriers on every side, it’s patently unfair to expect people to be able to make enough money to pay for the care they need.
What has been the impact of the pandemic on social care?
COVID-19 has further increased the need for support. This increased need hit a social care system that was already in crisis and stretched beyond its limits.
It often appears that the Government expects those with the least to fill the gaps in funding. Instead of this decreasing over time and the system becomes more balanced, the opposite appears to be happening.
We need a long-term, fully inclusive and carefully considered plan to deal effectively and realistically with the social care crisis.
Every person deserves the chance to resume the life they want to lead as the world continues to deal with the ever-present threat of COVID-19. This includes more support, better funding, better services and greater accessibility at all levels for disabled people.
We need substantial social care reform, and it needs to start from the bottom. The top-down approach only ends up withholding vital care from people who need it the most.
I’m concerned that the changes brought in next year will make the future even more difficult for the disabled population in this country.
The long years of austerity have left millions of disabled population just scraping by as it is. And without some substantial structural changes to the system, I fear this will get worse.
Rouzbeh Pirouz is Co-Founder and Senior Partner at London-based Pelican Partners, a real estate and private equity investment firm. On this website you can find out more about his life, work and experience.