Sharp rise in social care fees a stealth tax - Labour

Shadow health minister Liz Kendall: "It is a false economy not to properly fund these services"

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There has been a sharp rise in the cost of council services for elderly and disabled people, Labour has warned.

Data from 93 out of 153 councils in England showed fees for meals on wheels have gone up by 13% over the last two years, while transport rose by 33%.

The survey also found huge regional variations in the charges, which Labour says have become a stealth tax.

The government said local authorities were responsible for non-residential care and changes should be affordable.

Cross-party talks on the future funding of care are to begin in the new year, the BBC understands.

The findings, the result of a freedom of information request by the Labour party, also found differences in the fees levied and the caps on the sum people - mainly the elderly - have to pay.

'Brutal' cuts

Shadow health minister Liz Kendall said the services were a "lifeline" for many people and the increases in home care charges for older and disabled people were "a stealth tax on the most vulnerable in society".

Start Quote

These results highlight what we already know - the current social care system is not fit for purpose. ”

End Quote Councillor David Rogers Local Government Association

"The government is out-of-touch with the growing crisis in care. Their brutal cuts to funding for local council services are pushing up charges and placing an even greater burden on the people who most need help," she said.

More than 500,000 people receive some form of home help from councils. Some of those will be paying for it while those with savings of below £13,000 get it completely free.

The data showed charges for home care, such as helping washing and dressing, now stood at £13.49 an hour - a rise of 6% in two years.

It means the average person, which is classed as someone getting 10 hours support a week, pays over £7,000 a year if they do not qualify for state help.

Marked differences were also identified in the fees charged from area to area. For example, the London borough of Tower Hamlets provides free personal care, while in Cheshire East it costs more than £20 an hour.

Meanwhile, meals on wheels fees have risen by 13% over the last two years to £3.44 for each meal and transport to places such as day centres had risen to £2.32 per journey on average - an increase of 33% over the same period.

'Lifeline'

Some councils limit the weekly costs people are required to pay, ranging from a cap of £105 per week in Hackney to £900 per week in Brighton and Hove.

Nick's story

My father who is 86 receives carers to look after him four times a day for half an hour at a time.

He pays £600 a month but with the new rises from January 2012, this will go up to £750 a month.

He will soon have to dip into what little savings he has.

He's now immensely cautious about money - there were no Christmas presents this year.

The government says it is looking after the elderly but that's a farce.

But those caps have been squeezed as well.

In the past two years, four out of 10 councils have increased their caps while another four out of 10 have abolished them altogether.

Councillor David Rogers, of the Local Government Association, said the results highlighted that the current social care system "is not fit for purpose".

"It is under funded and in need of urgent reform," he said.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "Local authorities are responsible for non-residential care. Any charges they choose to make must be fair and affordable."

The findings come as cross-party talks look set to start in the new year about reforming social care.

Ministers have already indicated they want to publish plans for overhauling the current means-tested system in the spring.

But much will depend on whether political consensus can be achieved - and so Labour and government ministers have agreed to hold joint talks about changing the system, the BBC understands.

The last cross-party talks on the future of care funding broke down before the general election.

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