Ministers and councils urged to dump ‘disability tax’

By agency reporter
November 12, 2018

A survey of more than 600 disabled people revealed that many raided their budgets for food, housing or heating or went into debt to pay for the basic personal support they need for day-to-day survival. Some 40 per cent said charging had increased substantially over the last two years – often by more than half.

The research, by the Independent Living Strategy Group, uncovered wide variations between local authorities in both the amount they charge for social care support – and who they charge.

The study aimed to establish whether charging is undermining people’s wellbeing and independence which are  key features of social care services under the Care Act 2014. It concluded that additional stress and the need to cut back on other living essentials show that it is doing so.

The group’s chair, Baroness Jane Campbell, said: “Support provided under the Care Act is meant to improve the wellbeing and independence of disabled people. By charging many for that support, the system is making a mockery of the spirit of the legislation and causing worry, stress and poverty.

“Charging raises a relatively small sum of money which is pushing up costs elsewhere. The financial impact of personal care neglect such as pressure sores, kidney infections or falls, as well as stress related illnesses, means finding extra resources for the NHS.

“That false economy is compounded further by the block that charging poses on integration of health and social care – the holy grail for efficiency in our care services. The money raised through means-tested charges represents only a tiny fraction of the £7 billion removed from social care budgets since 2010.” 

Only 17 of the 152 councils which provide social care know how many people declined or abandoned social care packages they had been assessed as needing once they learnt how much they would have to pay.

The local authority responses to the group’s Freedom of Information request confirm that charging for basic personal support services is inefficient and counter-productive. Around 11 per cent of the funding generated is swallowed by the cost of means-testing and writing off bad debts. The £5 million raised is just 12 per cent of the community services budget yet it has a dramatic impact on those who pay the charges.

Although the report calls for social care charges to be scrapped (as they have been in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham), it proposes other recommendations for the Government and local authorities if that call goes unheeded. These include:

  • A requirement on councils to provide clear information on how charges are calculated and the right to appeal
  • Councils should monitor the proportion of people who decline – or give up – care packages following a financial assessment
  • All councils should undertake an equality impact assessment of their charging policies
  • Local authorities should work with disabled people’s organisations to agree what costs and income should be included in financial assessments.

Sue Bott from Disability Rights UK said: “If councils are to persist in this iniquitous tax on disability, they must at least reintroduce some consistency and clarity to their approach. The many councils that have failed to conduct an equality impact assessment – and to monitor the numbers of disabled people driven out of the care system by charging – must also get their act together.”

* Read Charging for social care: A tax on the need for support? here

* Disability Rights UK https://www.disabilityrightsuk.org/

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