Shock at new charges for day care

SUFFOLK County Council was last night accused of hitting the elderly with a “£2million tax on care” after outlining a series of new charges, which signal the end of free day care.

By Graham Dines

SUFFOLK County Council was last night accused of hitting the elderly with a “£2million tax on care” after outlining a series of new charges, which signal the end of free day care.

Just a day after councillors voted to privatise the county's day care provision, plans have been revealed to slap a £15 charge per session on day care users, increase the cost of their meals and treble the cost of transport to the centres.

Meals on wheels subsidies are to be phased out and hundreds more people will be charged more for home helps as the Conservative-run council introduces what it describes as “fairer charges”.


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The blame is being laid on cuts in Government grant and it is estimated the move will rake in £2million, which will be ploughed into providing facilities for the increasing number of dementia sufferers in the county.

But Roger Belham, a councillor on the opposition Labour group, said: “This huge increase in charges amounts to a Conservative-imposed £2m tax on care. Pensioners and the poorest people in Suffolk have already suffered from cuts to their services - now they're being expected to pay extra for what remains.

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“Ever-increasing charges on the public are not the way to dig the Council out of its Tory-made financial hole.”

Liberal Democrat leader Kathy Pollard said: “These proposals are quite simply a body blow for the people who use these services, the only effect they will have will be to create more fear and more confusion.

“Until this Conservative administration starts to manage the council in a financially sensible way I fear there is every possibility we will end up with no adult care service in Suffolk at all.”

Daphne Savage, chief executive of Age Concern Suffolk, said: “The worry is there are a lot of people in Suffolk on low or fixed incomes and they won't be able to afford care.

“It will be a case of the 'haves' and 'have nots'. I know the council say they will assess people's ability to pay but it's going to be a very difficult time because people are going to have to move from something they have been comfortable into a very different scenario. We expect to deal with a number of calls from people confused about the new system.”

The council said last night means-testing will still be carried out to ensure people on low incomes to ensure they avoid the charges or pay a “very small amount”.

A spokesman said: “Whereas four out of five people who receive care in their own home currently don't pay anything towards the cost, under the proposals about nine out of 10 people will pay a contribution.”

Graham Newman, portfolio holder for adult and community services, said: “We are proposing a much clearer and more equitable system for everybody.

“Not only are we proposing a fairer system of charging people according to how much they can afford, we will also provide advice to everyone we assess to make sure they're getting all the pension credits, allowances and rebates they are entitled to. So far in Suffolk, our teams have helped older people get more than £2 million extra income.”

He added: “We face a stark choice between fairer charges to raise more money, or reducing the services we can offer to vulnerable people.”

The proposals will be discussed at the council's cabinet meeting on April 3.

WHAT THE COUNCIL IS PROPOSING:

n ?Abolish free day care and levy a charge of £15 a session. Three sessions are held each day.

n ?Transport to day care centres - currently free - will cost £1.50

n Meals on wheels and meals served at day care centres will have their subsidies abolished, in line with policy introduced by the previous Labour-Liberal Democrat run administration in 2002. The cost for each meal will rise by 30p from April 2008 and another 30p in April 2009, plus any adjustment for inflation.

n Reassess the ability of people to pay for home helps. The numbers entitled to a free charge to be cut from 80% to 10%. Home help charges from April 1 will be £14.85 an hour.

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