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‘Attendance allowance must be reformed…but not means-tested’

Older person with carer

A few years ago the future of attendance allowance – the benefit paid to disabled adults aged over 65 – was up for grabs, after Labour mooted fully integrating it into the social care system. The upshot would have been increased eligibility criteria and means-testing of a benefit that is paid to rich and poor alike with relatively low levels of impairment. A furious row ensued – stoked by the Conservatives – and Labour dropped the plans on the eve of the 2010 general election.

The coalition has, unsurprisingly, let the benefit alone (unlike its younger brother, disability living allowance), but a report today, from charity Independent Age and think-tank the Strategic Society Centre, argues that the benefit should be reformed to improve value for money. However, it wholly rejects means-testing on several grounds, not least that it could increase pressures on informal carers and thereby lead to premature moves into residential care.

However, the report does detect problems with attendance allowance, not least a disconnect between this system of support for disabled older people, administered by the Department for Work and Pensions, and that provided under the social care label by local authorities. As many recipients of AA are not in touch with local authorities, this means they lose out on the preventive support that is both important to them in maintaining an independent life and vital for the public purse in curbing future care costs.

So the report puts forward the following reforms to attendance allowance:

  • ensure that the Department for Work and Pensions shares data from attendance allowance assessments so that it can be used by local authorities and the NHS to plan services and to help individuals, where they consent to data sharing;
  • use this data sharing to help councils provide support to individuals receiving attendance allowance – particularly those who have no contact with the social care system – to maintain their independence and reduce their future needs for care. This would come in the form of a duty on councils to specifically provide information and advice to recipients of attendance allowance, as part of the wider information and advice duty contained in the Care Bill.

This reform should involve a new name for attendance allowance to underline this purpose: independence allowance. It all sounds eminently sensible; and I’m given to understand that Labour shadow care minister Liz Kendall is likely to offer strong support for the reform. Things appear to have come full circle.

Picture credit: Burger/Phanie/Rex Features

About Mithran Samuel

Mithran Samuel is adults' editor at Community Care.

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