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Political and parliamentary Round-up: Social care, pensioner benefits and the post office network

Political and parliamentary Round-up: Social care, pensioner benefits and the post office network

A number of key issues that Later Life Ambitions campaigns on have been in the news this week, including the long-term funding of social care, pensioner benefits and the future of the local post office.

LLA has been vocal in standing up for our views and beliefs in what support and opportunities older people need to lead full, ambitious lifestyles. This blog provides a brief overview of the debates that have taken place this week.

Social care

Rt Hon Damien Green MP (former First Secretary of State and often described as Theresa May’s closest friend in politics) published a report with the Centre for Policy Studies, a think tank, setting out his views for the long term funding of adult social care. ‘Fixing the Care Crisis’ argues that the “current system is financially and politically unsustainable, opaque, unfair, and actively discourages local councils from investing in social care and housing for older people.” The report sets out that any reform of social care needs to:

  • Provide sufficient funding to plug the gap created by an ageing population
  • Be fair across generations and between individuals, ensuring that no one is forced to sell their own home and ending the ‘dementia lottery’
  • Increase the supply of care beds and the provision of retirement housing
  • Secure public and cross-party consensus

It argues that the care system should adopt the model of the state pension – with the Government providing enough support for a decent standard of care via a new Universal Care Entitlement, while encouraging and incentivising people to top up this provision from their savings or housing wealth via a Care Supplement. The report concludes that the “result of this is a sustainable system likely to be supported both in Westminster and beyond – not least because it protects councils from the soaring costs of care.”

It also suggests methods to fill the immediate funding gap in the social care system, estimated at approximately £2.75 billion. These include, in decreasing order of preference:

  • Taxing the winter fuel allowance
  • Diverting savings from the Spending Review
  • Potentially imposing a 1% National Insurance surcharge on those over 50

LLA welcomes this constructive addition to the ongoing debate on adult social care. We support much of its analysis and its ambition, however are unconvinced by some of the proposals put forward for how a future system could be funded – such as taxing the winter fuel allowance.

LLA will continue to work with organisations such as Age UK to evaluate options for the funding of adult social care and engage extensively when (if!) the promised social care green paper is published.

Pensioner benefits

The cross-party House of Lords Committee on Intergenerational Fairness and Provision has published a report, ‘Tackling intergenerational fairness’. It made a number of recommendations of interest to LLA:

  • Remove the triple lock for State Pensions and instead uprate the State Pension in line with average earnings.
  • Phase out free TV licences based on age. The Government should then decide if it wants to subsidise TV licences based on household income.
  • Free bus passes and Winter Fuel Payment should only be available five years after a person becomes eligible for the State Pension.
  • Better off workers over the State Pension age should pay National Insurance while they continue to work.
  • Ensure local authorities have specific planning policies to meet the housing needs of younger and older people.
  • Increase lifelong learning and training. In the context of a 100-year life, continuous training and retraining will become more important. Older people need to be equipped and supported to respond to a changing labour market.
  • The Treasury should publish a breakdown of the effects of each budget by generation and Government should create Intergenerational Impact Assessments for all draft legislation.
  • Policies should promote all age communities as drivers of intergenerational fairness. Local authorities should share intergenerational best practice and local and central government should focus on facilitating community activity and ensure long term sources of funding are available

While LLA recognises that society and the welfare state are underpinned by an implicit social contract between the generations, we reject the Committee’s call to remove the Triple Lock, phase out free TV licence and limit eligibility for free bus passes and Winter Fuel Payments. Making pensioners poorer will not address intergenerational fairness.

We believe these proposals are dangerously short-sighted. By providing pensioners with a small safety net, we enable older people to participate fully in society, travel to see loved ones, volunteer, keep their homes warm and access vital companionship through their TV.  The Committee’s failure to recognise that pensioners are not merely a drain on society is symptomatic of a wider problem with the way in which older people are seen.

The Committee has failed to adequately consider the inequality within generations, resulting in a picture that is both overly simplistic and unnecessarily divisive.  It is not accurate to class all older people as being better off than younger generations, nor is it accurate to claim that all younger people are struggling to get by. While there are certain trends that can be identified, this understanding is crucial to the intergenerational debate and has been unfortunately ignored by the Committee.

Workers today are ‘pensioners in waiting’. Like the Committee, we are concerned about the reduction in quality of retirement provisions, the uncertainty of the job market and the increasing cost of house prices. However, we believe the headline grabbing measures which the Committee has chosen to focus on in this report risk distracting from the bigger structural changes needed across the UK to help people of all ages, whether old or young.

LLA will continue to engage with the House of Lords Committee on Intergenerational Fairness and Provision to argue for a reasoned and well-considered approach to intergenerational fairness.

Future of the Post Office Network

A debate took place in the House of Commons on the future of the Post Office Network. LLA briefed MPs ahead of this, arguing that the Post Office Network is more than a commercial entity and serves a distinct social purpose. We urged MPs to call on the government to commit to a programme that ensures no Post Office closures and urgently renew its funding of the network to safeguard its future. We were delighted that our views were mentioned by MPs during this debate.

Post Office branches are hugely important to older people across the UK. The services offered are a lifeline as they are a place to access pensions, benefits, pay bills, get advice and to socialise. Older people and those on low incomes make greater use of cash and banking services, and vulnerable groups and remote rural residents use Post Offices for informal community services like support and information, or as a place to meet other local residents and friends. Our full campaign objectives for the future of the Post Office Network are:

  • Recognise that the Post Office is more than a commercial entity and serves a distinct social purpose.
  • Commit to a programme that ensures no Post Office closures and urgently renew its funding of the network to safeguard its future.
  • Become a genuine way for the public to interact with Government at both the national and local level.
  • Support the expansion of accessible and affordable personal financial services available through the Post Office.
  • Maintain and increase the number of central Government services available at the Post Office.
  • Full access to all UK high street bank accounts should be available at Post Offices.
  • Central, devolved and local government should provide grants and rates relief to increase the viability of post offices and their retail businesses.

Away from Brexit, there is clearly still a lot of important political debate and decision-making taking place. LLA is working hard to use the collective voice of 250,000 pensioners to make the case for reforms and changes that to make a positive difference for older people.