Look out for the Dilnot Commission next month – Emily Holzhausen

HOW we provide care and support to disabled and older people has come under the spotlight in the last week.

Following Panorama’s shocking investigation into abuse of disabled people in care, and concerns about the future of residents living in Southern Cross’s care homes, many commentators are describing a crisis in our social care system.

The truth is that our social care system has been in a bad way for a long time. If you need hospital care we all know the NHS is there. But if disability, illness or old age leads to care needs, families have long faced a postcode lottery of under-funded, often poor-quality services from local councils, which you may be charged for.

The system was designed decades ago when life expectancy was a few years after retirement at most. Today, as people live longer with illness and disability and with as many as 11 million people alive predicted to reach 100 years old, we face a very different situation.

Yet just at a time when services are facing a big increase in the number of people who need care, services are facing big cuts – as much as £1bn according to directors of social services at town halls.

Disabled people and their families are growing increasingly worried about what this will mean for them, as they also face an estimated £9bn cut to disability benefits as part of the Government’s plans for the benefits system.

These are services and benefits that families depend on for their everyday lives – support to cook and eat, get out of bed and wash or take a break from providing full-time care to a disabled loved-one. Cuts of this scale are putting at risk the dignity and independence of some of the most vulnerable people in society but could also do real damage to family life.

Last month, Carers UK  published new estimates on the amount that carers save the state with the care that they provide to loved-ones.

The figure is a staggering £119bn, up over a third from 2007. As our society ages, it is clear that families are meeting the care challenge – yet many are caring with little or no help or facing cuts to the care services and benefits they rely on.

We believe this is profoundly short-sighted. If we cut support to carers which allows them to take breaks, juggle work and care and have lives of their own, we will push them to breaking point and they will no longer be able to care.

The costs to society, our economy and our public services will be far greater in the long term, as people are forced to give up work to care and the NHS has to cope with the consequences of family care and carers breaking down.

Carers, older and disabled people are fighting these cuts. Carers UK is one of the charities leading the Hardest Hit campaign against cuts to benefits and services to older and disabled people. Last month saw the largest ever gathering of disabled people and their families, as we marched on Parliament in protest.

However, the cuts we are currently seeing serve to show just how much we need fundamental reform of how we care for older and disabled people.

Carers UK want to see a social care system that is fair and consistent, ending the postcode lottery which means that families with the same needs in different parts of the country get completely different care, or no help at all.

The care system needs to fit in with family life, so that people can juggle caring for older or disabled relatives with work and leading their own lives, rather than being left to cope with providing round the clock care.

It must also be good quality, as so many families are currently unable to accept help because they fear what bad services would do to vulnerable loved-ones.

As with most big political decisions, this one comes down to the money. There is no escaping the fact that our social care system needs additional funding to cope with growing demand. But at a time of big reductions in public spending, we face an uphill struggle to win this argument.

You might not have heard of the Dilnot Commission, which is an independent Commission set up last year by the Government to look into how we fund social care. But next month the Commission, lead by economist Andrew Dilnot, will deliver a final report to Government on how it believes we should fund our care system going forward.

This report could be a real turning point in social care, and unless we seize this opportunity and deliver lasting reform, we will continue to see a cycle of cuts, and families going without.

Much as we would like to, none of us can pretend that age isn’t going to catch up with us. We all need a decent care system, so that when we or our loved-ones fall ill, have an accident or grow old, we know that help will be there.

Look out for the Dilnot Commission next month. The care we and our families need as we get older may depend on its conclusions.

Emily Holzhausen is director of policy at Carers UK.

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