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Why the Elderly Are Being Punished by the Care Lottery

By: Kevin Dowling BA (IMC) - Updated: 2 Jan 2013 | comments*Discuss
Elderly Care Postcode Lottery Home

The alarming state of elderly care has been revealed to be little more than a postcode lottery, according to recent research. Recent findings from the Care Quality Commission highlighted appalling discrepancies between the level of care payments made by different councils, depending on the part of the country where pensioners applying for care assistance lived. The outcome is that some pensioners are being forced to sell their homes to pay for care, whereas other pensioners are able to avoid this fate, simply because they live in a different neighbouring district.

Pensioners in Poverty

The statistics behind the headlines are frightening. Last year it was measured that more than 3,000 people were forced to use their family home to fund their care. This is because over the last three years the number of pensioners being assisted with the cost of healthcare has dropped by 16 percent. The revelations from the Care Quality Commission is all the more shocking, because the variations between different districts are not based on criteria such as deprivation or wealth. This means that some of the poorest areas in the country are funding fewer care home places than some of the wealthier parts of the UK, even though in these areas there is a far greater likelihood that residents will be able to fund most of their own care.

How the Figures were Established

The research measured the number of people entitled to council-funded residential or nursing care, as a percentage of the number of pensioners in each council or local authority area. The calculations threw up some strange anomalies.

For example, Poole was revealed to have the lowest percentage of funded pensioners with just 12.5 pensioners per 1,000 able to claim funding. At the other end of the scale, pensioners in Hull were the best-funded in the country, with 37.9 per 1,000 entitled to care funding.

Other councils also showed a wide variance between councils who were willing to fund pensioner care and those who either couldn’t afford to or had too strict a criteria for pensioners. Local authorities' budgets may be already stretched but they have a fundamental duty to ensure that elderly people get the support they need. Clearly how these different local authorities interprets this a sense of duty is a matter of debate, and of course, the need to balance budgets plays a significant role.

Who Should Pay for Healthcare?

The basic law in terms of healthcare funding is unequivocal. Pensioners with assets worth in excess of £23,500 are legally obliged to contribute to the cost of residential care if needed. Unfortunately this limit includes the pensioner’s family home. This means that under the current rules, many thousands of pensioners will be forced to sell their home to fund care.

How Long Will the Lottery Continue?

The uncertainty regarding local authority rules however lies in the different interpretations from different councils. Some councils, for example, have rules in place that mean they will pay for the full cost of healthcare if the house occupied by the pensioner is also occupied by a partner, a carer or other relative.

The grey areas of these rules mean that older people's care funding is effectively being left to the vagaries of local council decision-making. It is hoped that these rules will be tightened up during the next session of Parliament. In the meantime, pensioners in need of care, but uncertain how they can afford to pay for it, will have to hope that the rules from their local authority will be sympathetic to their needs.

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