Why we all need to consider social care costs for later life now
Packed A&Es, extended waiting times and underfunding in social care are just some of the stories we’ve heard about in recent months. As we approach the General Election, plans for future government funding of social care have remained high on the agenda too.
Care funding from local authorities in England is limited to those with savings or assets of less than £23,250. It is right that individuals under this limit remain at the front of the queue when it comes to access to care. However, with an arbitrary cap like this, are those just over the limit left without support and facing the prospect of having to pay for the cost of care themselves? And these costs are significant. According to the latest report by Knight Frank, the average care home in the UK costs around £675 a week.
The government has previously set out its plan to provide an extra £2bn in social care funding and this remains a political issue at election time. However, whatever the result on 8 June, Britain’s ageing population means the provision of care will likely remain an issue for councils in the years to come.
Social care issues have become particularly acute when patients are well enough to be discharged from hospital but still require specialist support. Where this happens, the NHS will usually issue a care plan for these patients which can see them either returning to their own or a family member’s home, moving into sheltered accommodation, or alternatively a care home.
In many cases, the additional support or care needs to be organised with a local authority, and limited budgets coupled with increasing pressure on these local services means patients can often have their discharge from hospital delayed. In fact, the total number of days where patients were kept in hospital awaiting a suitable care package in their own home was 24,600 in January 2017 alone. This is a rise of 32% from January 2016.
With local authority care funding being means-tested many patients are outside of the criteria for local authority support, whether in purpose-built accommodation or their own home. Those patients will usually have to pay the full cost of care home fees.
While it is deeply troubling to see so many patients’ release from hospital delayed due to a lack of available social care, it does raise the question of whether preparing for the costs of care should be on our own financial agendas when we plan our retirement.
Preparations you can make now
A good place to start is to first take stock of your own personal situation including any savings you have set aside and whether your home will be suitable should you develop care needs in the future. Does your property have a stand-up shower, for example? If you live in a two-storey property, would you be able to move your bedroom to the lower floor if, in the future, you have difficulty climbing the stairs? Is your home located near to essential services such as a supermarket, grocery store or a GP practice? It is also important to consider your proximity to family members and friends in case of future support needs.
After establishing how your personal circumstances could impact potential future care needs, you should then speak with your local authority to get an understanding of what services are on offer in your area, as this can vary greatly from council to council. In many cases, councils now provide care to people only with the greatest need, due to an imbalance between demand for care and funding. By speaking to a representative from your local authority, you can get a better picture of what services to expect and give yourself a head-start in seeking any alternative solutions.
Once you understand which services you are entitled to, it’s then prudent to plan for any future costs by speaking with an adviser that specialises in later life care planning. Doing so can help you to make the necessary financial arrangements to cover the cost of care and give you a degree of choice over your later life care needs.
The truth is that care is expensive, and it often takes a personal experience or that of a relative for us to recognise the need to prepare for these costs. That is precisely where the support of specialist financial advice can be essential.
There are many options out there to help with providing for the cost of later life care and the amount of options could be a surprise to you. An adviser will be able to give you recommendations specific to your personal circumstances and speaking with them can help you to make any necessary financial arrangements now towards the cost of care and give you a degree of choice over how you address your later life care needs.
Ultimately, as Britain’s ageing population continues to grow, it’s likely that local authorities will come under even more pressure as they struggle to fund the provision of social care. To give us the best chance of receiving quality care in later life and avoid unnecessary time on a hospital ward, now might be the time to familiarise ourselves with local provisions and make our own preparations for later life care.
Wayne Carter is head of sales and marketing at National Friendly