Steve Wood comments on the Autumn Statement and the impact for older people

So, the dust settles on an Autumn statement which left some low income families breathing a sigh of relief as proposed cuts in tax credits were scrapped and buy to let landlords contemplating the impact of a 3% surcharge on stamp duty.

Win or lose, there is little doubt that he changes announced by the Chancellor this week will be closely scrutinised over the coming days and weeks, and here are some early observations on how they impact on older people.

Housing

£400 Million of funding for housing associations and the private sector to build more than 8000 new ‘specialist’ homes for older people and people with disabilities.

The Care and Support Specialised Housing Fund (CASSH) is already on track to deliver 4000 new homes and we are eagerly awaiting the announcement of the allocation of a further £155 Million under CASSH2. The additional funding announced on Wednesday is a welcome continuation of the governments recognition of the importance of good quality housing for older and disabled people but many agree that it is not nearly enough when you consider our ageing demographic.

An additional £500 Million available by 2019/20 for Disabled Facilities Grants. The government equates this to over 85,000 adaptations and estimates this will prevent 8,500 people from going into residential care.

Social Care

The drive to integrate health and social care by 2020 forges continues with the commitment to increase the funding available through the Better Care Fund from April 2017, increasing to an extra £1.5 Billion by the end of 2019/20.

Local Authorities with a responsibility for social care have the option to levy a ‘precept’ on Council Tax, with all additional income to be directed into spending on social care. The Chancellor claims that this has the potential to raise up to £2 Billion in additional funding by 2019/20.

Reform of the New Homes Bonus scheme could generate £800 Million which would be directed into social care.

Any additional funding is to be welcomed but the fact remains that the care sector remains in crisis, and much of the additional funding might not see its way into providing new services. Within the full Autumn Statement, it is suggested that the additional money available would in part help local authorities increase the rates at which they currently commission care services to counter the impact on providers of the imposition of the National Living Wage.

Welfare

Housing benefit for social housing tenants will be capped in line with the private sector, limiting housing benefit for social renters taking up new tenancies from April 2016 to Local Housing Allowance rates

It remains to be seen if this will apply to ‘specified’ accommodation such as extra care housing, where rent levels are often much higher that the LHA. If exemptions are removed or limited to exclude extra care housing, then this will have serious implications.

Pensions

The state pension for existing pensioners will rise by 2.9%, or £3.35, to £119.30 a week from April, to match the rise in average earnings, the largest increase in 15 years. This is the result of triple-lock pledge on pensions which means the state pension rises each April to match the highest of inflation, earnings, or 2.5%.

Next year is a significant one for new retirees as it is the start, from April, of the new flat-rate state pension, set at £155.65 a week. However, not everyone will get the full amount, such as some of those with a private or workplace pension provision. Some who have built up an additional state pension may get more.

Generally, this is good news for pensioners and again they have been protected from a lot of cuts by this government, although many people retiring under the new arrangements from April remain unclear about, and indeed let down by, the fact that they will be penalised if they have contracted out at any time during their working life.

Pension credit payments will be stopped for people who leave the country for more than one month. Currently, pension credit is paid for up to 13 weeks while claimants are temporarily abroad. If they go overseas for medical treatment under the NHS, then it is paid for longer. The same new restriction for those going overseas will also apply to housing benefit

All in all then a real mixture but an overall sense that whilst recognising the need to invest in better housing and to provide additional support to a significantly underfunded care sector, the measures put forward to bring this about fall well short of the mark.

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