Scotland’s Health Secretary has told parliament she was disappointed with Dumfries and Galloway Council’s decision to lower the charging threshold for care charges for disabled people.
Speaking in response to concerns raised in parliament by SNP MSP Joan McAlpine, Shona Robison also confirmed that Dumfries and Galloway, like other councils, had received Scottish Government money to ensure the charging threshold did not go below 25% for disabled people.
In February, Ms Robison had already clarified that through the £250m directed to Integration Authorities across Scotland, £6m was provided nationally to cover the changes in the charging thresholds. Any costs accrued by moving to the new minimum charging threshold of 25% could be met from the funding being provided. She confirmed that In the event that a Local Authority is already applying a higher threshold, its allocation would not be adjusted downwards. At that time a number of Local Authorities including Glasgow, East Lothan, East Renfrewshire, Falkirk, North Ayrshire, South Lanarkshire and Stirling had a 16.5% threshold.
She also flagged Dumfries and Galloway Labour’s defence that they were following guidance from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, pointing out that the COSLA figures were not binding and only intended as a minimum.
Responding to Ms McAlpine, Ms Robison told Parliament:
“I am disappointed that Dumfries and Galloway has chosen to reduce the threshold for social care charges. The COSLA charging guidance gives the threshold as a minimum, not a maximum, and other local authorities have higher thresholds.
“We provided additional funding to local authorities in 2016-17 to tackle poverty. If people on the lowest incomes are worse off now as a result of the changes to the charging thresholds in Dumfries and Galloway, that flies in the face of the council’s being provided with extra money to reduce those charges, and I hope that Dumfries and Galloway Council seriously considers the representations that have been made on this issue both locally and in this chamber.”
Ms McAlpine said:
“The Labour-run council claim they were previously “over generous”in their treatment of disabled people and have now equalised their treatment with other parts of Scotland. But they were under no obligation to do that – particularly when they were given additional money by the Scottish Government to REDUCE the charges.
“The council leadership cannot hide behind COSLA any more – we now have it on record that the guidance from COSLA was only a minimum recommendation, it was never intended to drive down payments to disabled people.
“The Scottish Government very clearly allocated money to councils to reduce charges. In January the Cabinet Secretary announced that £6 million of the £250 million allocated for social care was intended to reduce the charging burden or so-called “care tax” on disabled people. The Learning Disability Alliance Scotland have calculated Dumfries and Galloway’s share of this money at £182,000.
“Incredibly, the local Labour administration continue to pass the buck, not only hiding behind COSLA guidance but also blaming the Scottish Government who provided them with the money to make sure there would be no increase in charging. The council leader has been unable to give me a breakdown of what they have done with this money.
“Other Scottish councils who, like Dumfries & Galloway, had higher thresholds did not cut them. Only two others have done this but they have delayed implementation of the change or applied it only to new claimants.”
Ms McAlpine, who is also deputy convener of the parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Learning Disability, continued:
“It’s truly scandalous that my disabled constituents are now starting to pay for basic care at a lower level than healthy working people start to pay income tax. The council leadership has acted shamefully and is refusing to take responsibility for the immense distress and hardship directly resulting from the increase in care charging.”
Transcript of question and answer: http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/report.aspx?r=10660&i=97953#ScotParlOR
10. Joan McAlpine (South Scotland) (SNP):
To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on the reported sharp rise in social care charges for disabled people under 65 in Dumfries and Galloway, and whether it considers this a consequence of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities recommending an applicable income allowance of £132 per week. (S5O-00405)
The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport (Shona Robison):
I am disappointed that Dumfries and Galloway Council has chosen to adopt a lower income threshold for people under the age of 65. However, the Scottish Government funding has ensured that the threshold at which people begin to be charged for their social care has not been lowered further still in Dumfries and Galloway. The additional funding of £6 million that we provided to local authorities as part of the £250 million additional funding for social care in 2016-17 was intended to enable all local authorities to increase their charging thresholds to a minimum of 25 per cent, in order to take those on the lowest incomes out of social care charges altogether and to reduce social care charges for many more service users.
Although several local authorities do not begin charging until well above the COSLA minimum, only Labour-controlled Dumfries and Galloway Council has chosen to immediately and dramatically reduce the threshold for care charges for existing service users and to increase the rate at which they pay, despite the money that it has been given by the Scottish Government to reduce charges. That has resulted in vulnerable people with severe disabilities facing charge increases of 500 per cent and bills of £70 a week, which must come from their already pressured benefits. Does the cabinet secretary agree that that is cruel and unjustified?
As I said, I am disappointed that Dumfries and Galloway has chosen to reduce the threshold for social care charges. The COSLA charging guidance gives the threshold as a minimum, not a maximum, and other local authorities have higher thresholds.
We provided additional funding to local authorities in 2016-17 to tackle poverty. If people on the lowest incomes are worse off now as a result of the changes to the charging thresholds in Dumfries and Galloway, that flies in the face of the council’s being provided with extra money to reduce those charges, and I hope that Dumfries and Galloway Council seriously considers the representations that have been made on this issue both locally and in this chamber.