If you have never used care and support services, it may be difficult to imagine needing help from another person to do those everyday things you currently do for yourself. But many of us may need this support at some point in our lives.
I have been privileged to have played a part in the immense collaborative effort that has secured the most significant change to social care in over 60 years. The Care Act will support all of us to live well and independently for as long as possible. And for those who do require care and support, they and their families will be at the heart of any decisions that are made.
In my constituency of North Norfolk, I regularly volunteer for a charity that delivers library books to local people, some of whom are in their nineties, but still able to live well in their own homes. Local third-sector initiatives like this play a vital role in tackling loneliness and keeping communities connected. I'm pleased that the Care Act places a new duty on councils to provide information about these kinds of services.
But it isn't just the elderly who can need care. I recently met with the Multidisciplinary Association of Spinal Cord Injury Professionals, to discuss specialised rehabilitation services and this meeting was a timely reminder that people can need care and support at any point in their lives. This can be a temporary need, perhaps as a result of illness or injury, or it can be long-term; some people are born needing care and support for their whole lives.
The care and support system doesn't just support people with activities for daily living, such as eating, washing and dressing, it also helps people to go on doing the things they enjoy for longer and can support people to remain active, connected and productive members of society. It's only right that people who use care and support and, where appropriate, their carers, should have as much choice and control over their care as is possible.
The changes that we are introducing this year, which will affect the estimated 1.5 million people who receive care and support, and several million unpaid carers in England, together with the further changes in 2016, are designed to ensure that any decisions about care and support consider people's overall wellbeing and focus on supporting them to stay healthy and independent for as long as possible.
From this April, deferred payment agreements will become available across the country meaning that no one in England should be forced to sell their home in their lifetime to pay for care. A deferred payment agreement is an arrangement with the council enabling people to use the value of their home to fund care costs without having to sell their home at a time of crisis. People can then delay repaying the council until a more convenient time. Each year around 25,000 people are at risk of having to sell their home to pay for care and it's these people who could benefit.
The new national minimum eligibility threshold will provide peace of mind that wherever people live or plan to move within England, if their needs meet the threshold, they will be eligible for support. If someone decides to move to another area, councils will have to work together to make sure that there is no gap in their care. Those receiving care will be informed how much it will cost to meet their needs, and how much their council will contribute towards the cost. People will therefore have more control over how that money is spent. Whatever people's needs, their council will be able to put them in touch with the right organisation to support their wellbeing and help them remain independent for longer. This will make it easier for people to make plans for their care and support now and in the future.
The Care Act also recognises the needs of unpaid carers. Carers will be entitled to an assessment of their needs, irrespective of whether the person they care for has eligible needs; and for the first time, if a carer has eligible needs of their own, they will have the right to support from the council. A carer's assessment will look at the different ways caring affects a person's life and will work out how to help people carry on doing the things that are important to them and their families. Carers' physical, mental and emotional wellbeing will be at the heart of all assessments. The changes could benefit the 5.4 million people in England who provide unpaid care and support to family members and friends.
All this means that people who need care and support - at whatever point in their lives and for whatever reason - will have more control, more freedom and better care. Find out more by visiting www.gov.uk/careandsupport or speaking to your council.