UK Social Care: What The Shake-Up Means For You

The government's new plans to reform social care in the NHS could hit poorer communities the hardest.
Very old Middle Eastern woman using walker with closeup on hands
Very old Middle Eastern woman using walker with closeup on hands
Jasmin Merdan via Getty Images

There’s been uproar at plans promised by the prime minister to reform the way that social care is funded.

Boris Johnson says his plans, which will affect millions of people, are “incredibly generous” and believes they’ll improve the current system in place.

He’s been speaking at an annual event hosted by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) – a trade body for businesses.

The social care plans are part of the Health and Care Bill currently being passed through parliament but Johnson has had to work hard to prevent members of his own party turning against him.

What was the original social care plan?

When Johnson became prime minister in 2019 he promised to “fix the crisis in social care” to avoid people having to pay “catastrophic” care costs when they need it.

This could be from conditions like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

The worry is that people may have to use up their savings and sell any assets, such as their home, to pay for their care.

Currently, the social care system is means-tested so financial help is available depending on your income. If you’re not eligible for this type of assistance then there is no limit on how much you could end up paying.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking about social care plans at the CBI annual conference in Newcastle upon Tyne.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking about social care plans at the CBI annual conference in Newcastle upon Tyne.
WPA Pool via Getty Images

What is the new social care plan?

In September the government announced there will be an £86,000 cap on an individual’s social care spending that would come into play from October 2023.

It would mean no one would have to pay more than this in their lifetime and if the cap is reached then the government would take over the payments.

As part of the announcement, there was also a change to the means-testing system to try and help more people depending on their backgrounds.

People with assets up to £20,000 will not have to contribute anything to their care (up from £14,250). People with assets up to £100,000 will be able to receive some financial support from their local authority (up from £23,250).

But a few days ago the government said only individual payments to social care will go towards a person’s overall bill. Any funding or support received through means-testing would not count.

It’s to prevent people reaching the £86,000 cap faster than expected.

The new plans will come under the Care Act and need to be approved by parliament.

What do the plans mean in practice?

No matter how wealthy you are, no one will pay more than £86,000 for social care.

If you have less than £20,000 of assets you won’t need to contribute anything yourself.

The problem comes with people whose assets are between £20,000 and £100,000 or just over the £100,000 limit for means-testing.

A wealthy person who does not go through the means-tested system will reach the £86,000 limit faster than someone who does.

It’s because through means-testing, they’ll be receiving funding towards their care so will be contributing less of their own money towards the limit.

For example, a person with £106,000 in assets will pay the full £86,000 which will equal about 86% of their wealth.

A person with £506,000 in assets will pay exactly the same amount of £86,000 but it will account for only 16% of their wealth.

Social care in the UK will affect less wealthy households much worse with the government's new changes.
Social care in the UK will affect less wealthy households much worse with the government's new changes.
Catherine Falls Commercial via Getty Images

What do the critics say?

Those against the new changes worry poorer households will receive less protection and poorer pensioners will have to deal with prolonged care costs.

Labour says their own analysis shows a majority of household in northern areas will have to pay more towards care while a third of home-owners in the Midlands will be worse off.

Jonathan Ashworth, shadow health secretary said, “If you live in a £1 million house, perhaps in the Home Counties, 90% of your assets will be protected if you need social care.

“But if you live in an £80,000 terrace house in Hartlepool, Barrow, Mansfield or Wigan, for example, you lose nearly everything.”