Suffolk care charges blocked
CONTROVERSIAL plans to introduce charges for elderly day care in Suffolk have been blocked by opposition county councillors, who have insisted the decision must be made at a full meeting of the authority.
By Graham Dines
CONTROVERSIAL plans to introduce charges for elderly day care in Suffolk have been blocked by opposition county councillors, who insist the decision must be made at a full meeting of the authority.
Labour dubbed the proposed increases “mean” while the Liberal Democrats said it was little more than a stealth tax.
However, the controlling Conservatives hit back, with portfolio holder Graham Newman saying the county was simply falling into line with neighbouring counties, following central government guidance on fair charging, and that there would be adequate protection for those who cannot afford the fees.
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The call-in to the full council will freeze implementation of the plans, which the authority hopes can be introduced from November.
Kevan Lim, deputy Labour leader, said: “This tax on care increases the cost and number of charges to some of the most vulnerable people in the county and is an indefensible way of raising money.
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“It is the meanest and most unacceptable policy this council has tried to introduce.”
The county council wants to impose a maximum charge of £15 a session for old folk who attend day care centres, increase charges for transport and home helps, and increase the price of lunches both in the care homes and those provided by meals on wheels.
Nine extra staff at an annual cost of £250,000 will be recruited to administer the scheme and help old people claim for all their benefit and entitlements. The new charges are expected to bring in £1.54m from charging for home care and day care, £450,000 from transport charges, £10,000 for community support, £113,000 for providing meals on wheels, and £29,000 from day care meals.
“The key principle of the charges are that they must be based on an individual's assessed ability to pay and only people with capital of £21,500 and above will be asked to pay,” said Mr Newman.
“We have been forced into this position by central government, which has reduced our funding and does not seem to understand that Suffolk will have an extra 3,000 people aged 85 and over by 2011 who will need some form of domiciliary care which the county council will have to provide.
“I acknowledge that few will welcome the introduction of a more rigorous charging scheme. But I give the assurance that those on low incomes will continue to receive either a free or heavily subsidised service.”
Deputy council leader Sue Sida-Lockett said if the charges were not introduced, the only alternative “will be to cut back on services to the people most in need.”
Lib Dem group leader Kathy Pollard said: “This is a Conservative stealth tax which aims to raise £2m a year from some of the most vulnerable people in the county. This new charging policy will cause distress, confusion and concern for the people using this service and their carers.”
Daphne Savage, chief executive of Age Concern Suffolk, said: “Not only will many older people find themselves paying for services that have previously been free, but also means-tested benefits and some disability allowances that have been disregarded in the past when financially assessing people, are now going to be included in the assessment.
“Older people with disabilities and long term illnesses need these allowances to pay for help with everyday living, like cleaning, shopping, transport and heating bills and the poorest will be hit hardest.”