HEAD of NHS England, Simon Stephens, has angered millions of workers with his suggestions that pensioners’ free bus passes and their triple-lock pension arrangements should be abolished.
He said that there was no point in an entire generation of elderly people having a free bus pass and a good pension if there is no home help. He suggested that in its current form, council help for the elderly is not sustainable and that a form of compulsory insurance to cover the cost of care home fees should be introduced.
Both Simon Stephens and Tory Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, were called to appear before the Communities and Local Government (CLG) Committee to answer questions about the elderly care funding crisis. Speaking to the Parliamentary Committee, Stephens called for a ‘new social contract’ suggesting that care for the elderly could be funded by removing the free bus pass and breaking the ‘triple-lock’ pension which keeps pace with inflation and which older people rely on.
He said: ‘There is no point in saying to our parents yes you’ve got a free bus pass if you’re not able to leave the house because you don’t have the availability of a home help. It seems to me there’s no point saying we are putting all the available increases into triple-lock pensions – including for much better off pensioners – if it then means you’ve got 14 or 15 per cent of pensioners living in poverty and still not able to get the social care that they need. So we’ve got to have a single conversation about the new social contract for our older people.’
Stevens argued, continuing his onslaught on the elderly, that the existing ‘triple-lock’ policy, which promises increases in the state pension in line with inflation, should in future be replaced by a ‘triple guarantee’ which took account of an overall package of housing, income and care.
‘We need to go beyond just thinking about the health and social care funding and also think about what’s happening in the benefits system, the pension system and so forth,’ he said. If we are looking at some form of insurance model it needs to be some form of social insurance model or mandatory long-term care coverage, because I think you get market failure in private insurance markets for long-term care,’ he told the committee.
Labour peer Lord Lipsey asked him: ‘Surely the most immediate, now crisis-level problem is that there just isn’t enough social care. You’ve got 26 per cent less people living at home supported by local authority carers. You’ve got 5,000 care home beds already lost in the last year and many more under threat.
‘So more and more, you’ve got to put up people in your hospitals because there is nowhere else to go. Isn’t that the priority crisis that faces us over the next few years?’
‘Yes it is,’ Stevens admitted. Health secretary Jeremy Hunt then addressed the Committee. He said that increasing spending on health and social care was something he would support only if the economy is ‘strong enough’.
He told the Committee that the biggest risk to the principles behind the NHS was if the economy went ‘pear-shaped’. ‘That is the thing that we all have to worry about most of all. I don’t think it will. Happily we are doing better than many feared post-Brexit, but that is the biggest single risk,’ he said.
He went on to suggest that council-funded care for the elderly is unsustainable and that those in their 20s and 30s should start saving up to pay for their own care when they are old. ‘The name of the game is to find a way of getting people in their 20s and 30s to think that this is actually part of being a citizen to think about what’s going to happen when you’re much older – in a more realistic way than is currently happening,’ Hunt said
Meanwhile, nearly half of the councils approached with a Freedom of Information request were found to have axed meals on wheels since 2010.