Free home care – a double-edged sword


The plan for 250,000 elderly people to get free home care is outlined in the Government’s Social Care Bill which survived a recent challenge in the House of Lords. The cost at the moment is expected to come from the Department of Health which plans to pay £420 million, and councils are being asked to contribute £250 million, to be found through efficiency savings. Claims have been made that this is more likely to be £1 billion. The Department of Health says the change will reduce the number of people in residential care, not increase it. The UK Homecare Association fears more people may be sent to a residential or nursing home as a result, because at the moment most people have to pay a proportion of the cost under a means-tested process.


After free homecare was introduced in Scotland, the number of claims went up by 36 per cent within the first five years. Will those getting “a little bit of help at home” with cleaning and getting groceries have services squeezed to pay for free care? Just devoting some of the £670 million to improving care services would do far more for older people than spending it all on free care. As councils are being asked to fund a big chunk of the cost, this could lead to rises in council tax and cuts in other council services. Is the true motive to relieve the elderly of the burden of care, or to gain Labour votes? Clearly, the Bill has many difficulties still to negotiate. The least of those is getting it onto the statute books before the general election.