Committee (6th Day)

Part of Care Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 7:30 pm on 16th July 2013.

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Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health 7:30 pm, 16th July 2013

My Lords, the clauses on the capped-costs system represent a significant step forward, ending decades of uncertainty, with the introduction of a clear system that fairly shares costs. For the first time, people will be protected from spiralling costs and will no longer have to fear that their home will be sold while they are in a care home. In response to Amendment 90ZA, I can confirm that we published an impact assessment of the reforms which includes the distributional impact by income.

The current system exposes those with little savings or modest housing wealth to the greatest risk of losing everything to pay for their care and support. We will enable people to keep more of their capital and still receive a contribution from the local authority towards their residential care costs. Under new regulations, those with capital assets of less than £118,000 will see the local authority pay a proportion of their residential care costs rather than only those with assets of under £23,250.

As I mentioned earlier, the vast majority of state support will be provided to the 40% of older people with the lowest income and wealth. The cap and extension to means-tested support provides the most reassurance to this group. This is about protecting people with the greatest lifetime care needs and not people with the greatest wealth. The reforms must be sustainable and affordable for the long term, which is why we have accepted the Dilnot commission’s recommendation that the level of the cap should be adjusted annually in line with inflation. It is an approach used in taxes, pensions and benefits, ensuring they remain equally fair year after year.

I turn to amendments 92ZZB, 92ZZC and 104ZC. The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, shares our aim in drawing up the Care Bill of ensuring the system can respond to changing circumstances. However, that dynamism must be balanced with some certainty about the basis for changes. That is why Clause 16 requires annual adjustments to be made to the cap and to an adult’s accrued costs, so that they keep pace with inflation. Clause 66 provides some certainty that changes are likely to occur only as a result of the annual adjustment or five-yearly review. In reviewing the level of the cap and the means-test threshold, the Government will want to involve a range of experts in assessing how external factors such as demographic change and healthy life expectancy are affecting affordability and the benefits of the capped costs system. A standing independent committee is therefore unnecessary and could suggest that the system is subject to constant change—which may, perversely, result in fewer people planning and preparing on the basis of these reforms.

Amendments 90A, 90B and 90C would require the annual adjustment to be made in line with average care costs. The first point to make is that there is no nationally recognised measure for care costs inflation. Linking the annual adjustment to a care costs inflation measure that has no national benchmark would not give people, or the financial services industry, certainty or confidence in the system. It would of course be possible to develop such a measure, but we feel it is unnecessary, as a robust proxy already exists. Average earnings is one element of the measures used to determine the state pension and therefore represent changes in people’s ability to pay. Earnings is a national statistic certified as compliant with the code of practice for official statistics. In addition, care costs and average earnings are related since labour is a substantial proportion of the cost of care. The latest Laing & Buisson market survey states that,

“in the longer term, fees are inevitably driven by costs … the major cost item is payroll”.

Turning to Amendments 89E, 90 and 104ZD, which is where my noble friend Lord Sharkey began this debate, I fully agree that it is critical that people are made aware of the reforms and what they will mean. The Dilnot commission rightly recommended that there should be an exercise in raising awareness alongside implementation of the reforms. Many people do not realise that they may have to pay for their care and support, which acts as a significant barrier to effective planning and prevention. The Committee will be aware from the debate on Clause 4 that we know that easier access to good quality, trusted information and advice is a critical enabler. The Bill places a duty on local authorities to provide information and advice, including on the capped cost system.

I assure the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, that we have absolutely no intention to or interest in allowing spin to replace clear and balanced information for the public. In improving awareness and advice, national and local must work together. It will be in the interests of local authorities, the public, government and the financial services industry to make sure that people are aware of the reforms and have access to the right information and advice at the right time so that they can plan and prepare to meet their care and support needs. We will seek views in the forthcoming consultation on the design and technical implementation of the funding reforms, which will include addressing the best way to raise awareness of these reforms nationally and locally.

My noble friend Lord Sharkey made the good point that awareness and understanding of the Dilnot reforms has to be evaluated and measured over time. As with any other policy, we will seek to evaluate the effectiveness of this particular policy, but we believe that to require an annual report in the Bill would incur a potentially high and unnecessary cost. There are other ways of delivering the same aim.

With respect to Amendments 90D and 92ZZC, I recognise that alighting on a solution to the long-standing issue of funding reform should not mean that we sacrifice effective implementation for speed of delivery. There must be a suitable balance, but that does not mean that we cannot deliver in April 2016. We are working closely with the key representatives of the care sector to shape the consultation over the summer on the detail of implementation to make sure we get it right and realise the benefits we all want to see. There is a shared understanding that we need to work together to address the implementation challenges. However, the capped cost system builds on what already exists—assessments and personal budgets are two elements that will form the building blocks of capped cost implementation. It is worth adding that government guidance requires all new burdens on local authorities to be fully funded. Alongside the funding that we have announced for the reforms at implementation, we are providing additional funding for transition to ensure that councils are ready to take on their new responsibilities from April 2016.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, asked what impact Dilnot will have on the market. Our reforms will mean that people will be able to see the cost to the local authority of meeting their eligible needs. They will be able to compare that with what they might pay on the open market and will then have the option to request the local authority to arrange their care for an administrative fee. We know that many people will not want to have the local authority arrange their care but it is important that we fully explore the potential impact.