Friday, 4 March 2011

Responding to local concerns on charging for care

Last weekend Reading Borough Council's consultation on the future of adult social care came to an end.
We received over 1,000 responses from residents - I am delighted that we managed to get feedback from so many carers, service users and interested parties.As I have commented here before residents in Reading care deeply about social care. I am very grateful to everyone who took part as it helps me and my Cabinet colleagues make an informed decision on 14 March. I will be attending the scrutiny event on 10 March where issues identified in the consultation will be discussed in more detail.
As part of the consultation the Council consulted on it's fairer charging policy as there is a pressing need to make public funds go further if we are to be able to cope with the increasing demands of an ageing population.
The first thing to say is that social care has always been a a means-tested service. That said almost half of people who currently receive adult social care services will not be affected by the revised charging policy.
In Reading for many years when it was Labour controlled the Council has been subsidising people who can afford to pay.
While seemingly generous this short-sighted approach has put huge pressure on the Council's budget.
This year alone the Council has had to manage pressures of  £2 million pounds on the planned adult care budget as a result of increased numbers of people using our services.
In order to fix the budget and safeguard vulnerable people we proposed in the consultation to move to a system where charges better reflected the true cost of our services and that those who were assessed as being able to pay would pay for services.
Locally there has been coverage in the local media of fears that increased charges for daycare services could risk putting them potentially out of reach of some residents. These fears were also expressed during the consultation. I have listened carefully to these concerns and taken residents' fears on board whilst I have been working with officers to develop a new charging policy
I would like to pay tribute to local pensioner Freda Potten and Tina Barnes of the Friends of Albert Road Day Centre for the way in which they have brought these concerns to my attention and championed the needs of older people in Reading.
In response to the issues they and others have raised I am recommending that officers develop an implementation plan that helps identify residents receiving care who might be impacted by charging changes.
This is likely to take the form of a phased approach to increasing charges. As part of the introduction of the new policy all residents who currently receive care from the Council will receive a financial assessment. If this assessment picks up potentially difficulties officers of the Council will work with residents to help them pay for care.
It is worth pointing out that staying within budget on adult social care this year - something that never happened under the previous Labour administration of the Council means we have greater flexibility to support vulnerable people. If we had not tackled the overspend we would have no wriggle room at all.
These are not easy decisions to take but I have done my utmost to be as open as I can about the challenges we face as a Council and as a community. I have focussed on protecting the vulnerable as my top priority and doing my best to put the Council's budget on a more sustainable footing.
I will be blogging about other issues that have arisen in the consultation in the coming days.

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