In an ideal world, we'd all plan ahead for later life, both for ourselves and our loved ones. In reality, this isn't always possible and certainly isn't what most of us do. In fact, Anchor's recent research shows only one in nine of us are planning ahead for later life and that number is going down, rather than up - some 22% fewer are planning ahead than this time three years ago.
There are a number of reasons for this, but a big one is that many people find the social care system confusing and wrongly assume that all care is paid for by the state. We're living longer, leading to an ageing population that will need more support but, with so much confusion about the basics, how are we going to prepare for this?
This confusion and worry about social care provision is even more alarming when you consider the recent news from the sector. The Care Quality Commission report stated that almost a fifth of services are rated as 'requires improvement'. And BBC research showed an alarming shortfall in care home rooms that will leave up to 3,000 older people without the support they need by the end of next year.
We need a clear vision for the system we want and practical measures to make it happen. It's clear that once the Government returns from summer recess, social care needs to be top of the agenda.
All this means that planning ahead sooner is even more important and we must do more to help people and bust some of the myths around care. Anchor's study revealed that at the moment a fifth (22%) of us wrongly believe the state pays entirely for your care needs in later life - with this figure increasing to 33% for those age 16-34. This simply isn't the case - your own assets, including property, are used to pay for residential care until your assets fall below £23,250. If you need care at home, you will be means tested and the pre-election discussions suggested that the Government is looking to include the value of your home, which is currently excluded from these calculations.
Where people are thinking about future care, we're grossly underestimating the cost of staying in a care home. In reality, the average annual cost is £31,200 - £36,008 - figures which include all accommodation and living costs, food, laundry and care. Yet more than half of us believe the average social care costs are under £30,000 a year, with a worrying 29% thinking costs are just £20,000 each year.
Considering these misconceptions, it's no wonder that just 14% of us are shown to be currently saving for our care needs in later life.
Even those who know social care costs are paid by the individual are worried about this fact. Our research revealed that the majority of us (72%) worry we will not be able to pay for the cost of our own care and that 68% are concerned about affording decent care for relatives.
These feelings, unfortunately, come as no surprise. This year's election saw confusion on the topic of social care and the 'dementia tax' and, since then, no real action has been seen from government. Successive Governments have 'demoted' the remit for social care to a "Parliamentary Under Secretary" and despite the increased focus on this area the situation simply continues. We've been promised a Green Paper that will consult on social care, which I can only hope will lead to some clarity on the future of this crucial sector.
On returning from recess, the Government needs to take note of our research alongside the CQC report on adult social care. We all want to know that, if we or our loved ones need care, it will be suited to individuals' needs and of a consistent quality. The majority of providers are achieving good quality in their provision of care, but urgent concerns around funding continue and we cannot overlook the fact that standards are not standard and fair across the board.
The social care sector is full of committed and hardworking people whose desire it is to provide the best for older people but they need the support to do so. Even the most skilled of workers cannot perform in an environment suffering from funding cuts at every angle. The CQC report again highlights the intense strain that is felt by the social care sector and the need for reform.
It's clear that the failure of successive governments to commit to a plan that meets the needs of our ageing population and future generations are now felt by all - by those working in the underfunded health and social care sectors and those left ill-prepared and worried about funding their future care and that of loved ones.
We are in dire need of a sustainable long-term strategy that puts an end to this. And it needs to be transparent so that each of us has the opportunity to plan and save for our future and not be caught out by further confusion or misconceptions.