Two news stories this week demonstrated the growing crisis in care for older people.
First there were reports that the cost of a care home place is outstripping older people's incomes. Then councils said that they are hopelessly underfunded to deliver the government's reforms of paying for care.
So what is the problem? And can we do anything about it?
As we know from the Good Care Guide, the rising cost of a care home place is very worrying for older people and their families. Our ageing population and the growing number of people with dementia mean that more and more elderly people will need to move into a care home at some point in their lives.
Looking after someone with dementia requires more trained staff and more one to one care. Inevitably this will be more expensive - even though most care staff are only paid at/or just above the minimum wage.
But the situation is made worse by government cuts in care funding that are hitting both local authorities and families. As a result councils are squeezing the fees that they pay care homes for places that they purchase. Families are increasingly being asked for a 'top-up payment' to meet the shortfall between what the council pays and the real cost of the place in the care home. Families should tell the council to pay the full fee.
Many older people don't get any financial help from their council because they own a property or have other assets worth more than £23,250. Where older people and their families have to pay all the fees for a care home place, increasing numbers of elderly people are being forced to sell their home to pay the bill.
The government has said it wants to stop older people having to do this - but only while they are alive! A new universal deferred payments scheme comes into effect in 2015 but this will still mean that families have to sell the home after the older person has died to pay for their 'deferred' care home fees.
The government is also introducing a cap on care costs from 2016 but this won't stop the sale of homes to pay for care. The cap of £72,000 only covers care costs and not the living/hotel costs in a care home. As a result it could be five years before an older person reaches the cap and the state steps in to pay their care costs, but by that point they could have already racked up fees of over £150,000 with more to come - if they haven't already died!
The government's reforms are causing huge problems for cash-strapped councils which are having to set up new systems and processes to assess everyone who might need help paying for care (along with a host of other changes.)
As a result, councils will have even less funding available to help older people actually pay for care and get the support they need. This, at a time when demand is growing as our population ages - a perfect storm unless you are old which we all will be at some point.
Urgent action is therefore needed to boost funding for better care for older people. In the meantime older people and their families should get proper financial advice on paying for care and the best help that is currently available.