An attempt to reform the Care Tax
Recently members of voluntary organisation who work with people affected by the care tax met with COSLA and representatives of local councils to suggest ways that the Care Tax could be made fairer. In the rest of this article you can read what they proposed.
However they were unable to get agreement to proceed with any of the suggestions although they were not ruled out. Some people see this as a pattern in COSLA's approach - nothing is ever ruled out but nothing ever really seems to change. That's why more and more people and organisations are joining up the Scotland Against the Care Tax.
Our Position on Charging for Non Residential Services
It is our position that people should not be charged for social care services which they are assessed as needing. There is no justifiable argument to levy a charge on people who require a service to provide them with equal access to independent living and to participate in the workplace and in their local communities. Local Authorities will argue that they rely on care charges to offset the cost of providing social care services . However, this argument is not applied elsewhere when it comes to them delivering on their statutory responsibilities. No other sector of society is expected to contribute to the cost of providing services in such a disproportionate way.
As the situation stands at the moment, not only are the users of social care services charged for their use, but very often these charges are confusing, excessive and unfair and there is a great degree of variation between local authorities and between services within local authorities. While our ultimate goal is for local authorities to scrap care charging, we believe that there are measures that can be taken in the interim to reduce inequity and produce local charging policies which are both fair and transparent.
Care Charges Soar while the Council Tax is frozen
Over the first three years of the Council Tax freeze, councils across Scotland have made up the shortfall in their incomes by rapidly increasing the amount that they receive in Care Tax from vulnerable adults. The Care Tax is the proper name for client contributions or charging for non residential community care services.
The Chart shows a consistent rise of 12% in just two financial years, much faster than inflation and we expect further increases when the next round of figures is made available in Feb 2014.
In the three years to 2012 income from charges went up by 29.5% for people using day services, 42% for those who needed equipment and physical aids and a massive 84% for people who got a Direct Payment.
2. Care tax – an intolerable burden
Demand for social work services is continuing to grow ; at the same time, public sector finance is declining . The result is a gap in funding for social care.
There have been two main responses to this gap between supply and demand of community care – one has been to raise thresholds for accessing services; and the other has been to ask the people who are receiving the services, to pay more for them – including older people who don’t pay for personal care but do have to pay for domestic support or support to leave the house and meet friends.
We believe that neither of these approaches recognises; social care as an equality and human rights issue, the value of it for the equality or human rights of disabled and older people – nor the poverty experienced by them; or addresses the fundamental problem – that there is not enough money in social care.
Community care charges contribute only 3% (= approx. £42.6m) of the cost of social care in Scotland . This may seem like a small percentage, however, it is important to understand this from the point of view of the supported person.
For disabled and older people/people who use social care services, this 3% accounts for up to 100% of their (disposable – i.e. after housing costs) income - in one local authority, people pay as much as £600 per week care tax. This is even more concerning when we note that many (47.5%) households including a disabled person are living in poverty : 50% of disabled people of working age are in work, compared with 80% of non-disabled people of working age and of the £18bn in benefit cuts proposed as part of Welfare Reform, a disproportionate amount will fall on disabled people . This poverty is particularly hard felt as research by Leonard Cheshire Disability notes that disabled people face a 25% higher cost of living than non-disabled people.
In addition the cost of collecting charges is largely unknown. Whilst it used only a small survey, one of the only figures on the costs of collecting charges is from the Audit Commission in England. They reported in 2000 that between 20-40% of income from charges is spent on administration costs . Perhaps more important than the overall cost however, is that what happens to the charges. Often, LA’s defend charges by saying they are an essential source of revenue for charges, however, as figure 1 shows, only 38% of the charges taken are put back into front line provision .
Figure 1: What happens to charges once they are collected
1. Social care and human rights
Independent living means “disabled people of all ages having the same freedom, choice, dignity and control as other citizens at home, at work, and in the community. It does not mean living by yourself, or fending for yourself. It means rights to practical assistance and support to participate in society and live an ordinary life.”
For many of its users, community care is an example of the essential, practical assistance needed to ensure they can participate in society and lead an ordinary life. Without it, they could not enjoy the human rights they are entitled to on an equal basis to others – as set out in the Human Rights Act and the European Convention of Human Rights, live free from discrimination and harassment as the Equality Act 2010 promotes, nor contribute to a wealthier and fairer, healthier, safer and stronger, smarter and greener Scotland .
This relationship between social care, equality and human rights is recognised and underpinned by various international and domestic laws and as such, its provision is a crucial aspect of fulfilling these, including for example:
Section 1A of the Self Directed Support (SDS) Scotland Act, which recognises the role of social care in supporting disabled and older people’s rights to dignity and participation in society.
The Equality Act 2010, which recognizes the importance of public bodies and the supports/services they provide, in the:
•elimination of discrimination, harassment and victimization,
•advancement of equality of opportunity
•promotion of good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it
All of the human rights protected by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), in the Human Rights Act and in subsequent human rights conventions – which belong equally to disabled and older people. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled People (UNCRPD) strengthens and contextualises these rights and recognises the role of community care in doing so: Article 19 of the UNCRPD states that to ensure disabled people equally enjoy the rights laid out in the ECHR states must ensure that; “disabled people have a right to live in the community, with the support they need and can make choices like other people do”.
Public bodies must not act in ways which are incompatible with the rights set out in these laws and conventions. As outlined above, for many, without social care these laws and conventions could never be the reality.
Social care is an equality and human rights issue. It is an essential part of the infrastructure of a fair and equal society that respects, protects and fulfils the human rights of its citizens – it must be treated this way.
Charging those people who use social care does not do this – it merely asks them to pay more money than anyone else, to achieve their basic human rights on an equal basis to those who don’t use social care. In some instances it can lead to people doing without essential care and support – denying themselves their human rights and putting themself at risk because they use what money they have to pay for heating or food, and have nothing left to pay their care tax .
In addition, the Scottish Government have the power to abolish charges – but they currently allow LAs to choose whether and what to charge – equalities and human rights are not issues that can be left to ‘discretion’.
3. The tax on care
Given its role in promoting, protecting and supporting human rights; it is unjust that users of community care should be asked to pay towards it – it is a tax on care. Charging for crucial support to make human rights a reality for some people in our society is considered at best, unusual, and at worst, a contravention of the rights laid out in law for disabled and older people.
We note that – rightly – some services that are crucial to the rights of citizens; e.g. the NHS, schools and cycle lanes; are paid for by everyone in society, but used by only some. We believe that the decision not to pay for community care in this way is historical and arbitrary and that community care should be paid for by everyone, in the same way the NHS is.