THE BLOG

Care - The Crisis That Hasn't Barked in the Election Campaign

06/05/2015 17:24 BST | Updated 05/05/2016 10:59 BST

It's widely acknowledged that the demand pressures on the NHS have been exacerbated by cuts in local authority funding for care for older people.

Councils are spending £3.5 billion less on care than in 2010. Despite the growing number of older people, fewer are getting help with care and support. As a result many older people are struggling on their own, paying for care themselves or relying on family and friends.

The consequences have been felt by the NHS, as more older people have been admitted to hospital via A&E and their discharge has been delayed by inadequate homecare, with shortages of trained staff.

So why hasn't care featured more in the election debates? And why haven't the main parties promised more funding to tackle the care crisis in their manifestos?

It really is the crisis that hasn't barked. The ball has been passed to whoever wins the election in what can truly be described as 'a hospital pass'.

The next government will inherit the Care Act 2014 which is currently being implemented. The first measures came into effect last month with more to be introduced in 2016.

For all its merits, the Care Act does not address the underfunding of care. Instead it will raise expectations about what help and support might be available and will increase pressures on hard-stretched local authorities.

In theory, councils should be doing more to provide advice and information, more to support carers and more to promote prevention.

As part of the Act's measures to cap care costs, older people will also be entitled to have their needs assessed and reviewed to see if their care costs are eligible.

With the cap on care costs set at £72,000, older people and their families will want to know if what they are spending is counting towards the cap.

Many people will be in for a rude awakening when the cap is introduced in 2016. Not only because the cap has been set at a very high level and only covers care costs (not the accommodation charges in a care home for example). Your care costs will only be eligible if your needs are above a nationally set bar and will only be eligible at a rate set by your local authority, not what you might actually pay.

For many older people living in a care home, with dementia for example, it could be several years before your care costs reach the £72,000 cap. By that point (if you haven't died) you could have racked up care home fees of £150,000 plus and therefore still face having to sell your home to pay the bills.

So the financial help for many older people will be insignificant. And to make matters worse the care funding system will become more complex.

It will therefore be critical for older people and their families to get specialist advice before they start using care. Charities like Independent Age can help by providing telephone advice. The Society of Later Life Advisers can point you to specialist financial advisers.

But care providers also need to do more to help older people and their families. One care home provider, Caring Homes, has taken steps to provide a web-based guide on funding the costs of care to help families choosing care. This will help equip families through what is often a difficult time as an older person moves into care. The BBC also has a care funding calculator on its website and of course on the Good Care Guide website we have thousands of impartial reviews that provide families with insight into what a care provider is really like according to families who have used them. Families may also want to talk to a specialist adviser on the best financial option for them.

Until the new government gets to grips with the care crisis and introduces more financial help for older people, it will be up to each of us to get the best deal possible. As more older people and their families realise that increasingly they are on their own and they are expected to pay for their care, then pressure will increase on government to sort out the mess.