Attendance Allowance is a weekly payment that allows disabled older people to meet some of the extra costs that they face. It is a lifeline for over a million older people, allowing many to go on living independently in their homes.
Now the Government is proposing to devolve it to local Councils instead of distributing the money centrally as happens at the moment. It is part of a consultation on local government finance, following the decision to allow Councils to keep 100% of local business rates – link to consultation open till 26 September.
This is worrying for more than one reason. In future, the money risks no longer being available for disabled older people if it is not ring fenced. The proposed change is coming at a time when there is huge pressure on funding for adult social care delivered by local councils. Age UK London pointed out in its manifesto for the 2016 London Mayoral election, that an estimated 94,000 older people in London have long term care needs that aren’t met by official services. This gap is likely to grow given the ageing population and the prospect of austerity continuing. It would be very tempting for hard pressed Councils to take money from Attendance Allowance to plug the holes in their main social care budget if they were able to.
The need for Attendance Allowance itself is probably going to grow a lot with the growth in the number of older people. Age UK estimates show demand for Attendance Allowance growing by up to 47% in London boroughs (and 50% for the City of London) from 2015 to 2025. This is based on demographic ageing, and assuming the current eligibility criteria remain. In the majority of boroughs, needs would rise by over 30%. Would Councils be willing to raise business rates sufficiently to meet increased needs?
If AA is devolved, who will be eligible for it in future? If local authorities have discretion over it, won’t this recreate the type of postcode lottery that used to exist for social care before the Care Act, with older people with similar needs getting very different responses in different local areas?
Age UK has started an open letter urging the Government not to transfer Attendance Allowance to local authorities. You can find the letter here and if you’re concerned about this subject, please sign it and pass it on to people you know!