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TX:  19.01.04 - DISABILITY CAMPAIGNERS SAY "FAIRER CHARGING" POLICY IS NOT FAIR

PRESENTER:  WINIFRED ROBINSON

THE ATTACHED TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT. BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.

ROBINSON
It's a year since the government introduced its fairer charging policy for people who need care at home. The idea was to iron out regional variations in care charges, which saw some councils charging for services - including bathing and preparing meals - while others offered the same services free. The poorest people were taken out of the charging system altogether, but a report from the Coalition on Charging, which is made up of 200 charities and organisations for people with disabilities, says that the new system isn't working. They cite cases like that of Veronica Beechey, we first spoke to her a year ago when the changes were proposed, her disability means she sometimes can't walk more than a few paces and she told Carolyn Atkinson that she is furious at the way things have worked out.

ACTUALITY
Hiya,

Hi, how are you?

I'm alright thanks, how are you?

Okay.

Good.

Did you have a nice weekend …

BEECHEY
I get 21 hours a week and I have a variety of different people to come in at different times of the day.

ACTUALITY
Do you mind clearing up in the kitchen - putting the dishes away, making some soup - the stuff's out there - making some salad. There's some washing just see if it's dry, if it is take it down.

BEECHEY
Most of the care I get is for meal preparation and cooking because I have very severe allergies and a restricted diet and if I depart from that I get [indistinct words], which means I can't have meals on wheels. So most of the help I have is for that - washing my hair, things like that.

ATKINSON
Now a year ago you were paying £35 a week for all of that, what are you being told now?

BEECHEY
Well when the full charges are introduced about £200 a week, it's slightly less, not because the care's gone down but because they've cut my hours. I mean it's still nearly 500 per cent, it is absolutely outrageous, I think it's very, very unfair.

ATKINSON
And in terms of your quality of life are you now thinking that you're going to have to cut the hours because you simply can't afford to pay them?

BEECHEY
Yes I just can't go on as I have been, I can't go on paying that level of charges. So a situation that's always been difficult, which is living on my own with severe ME, becomes impossible, so I have to change something and I just can't figure out what to change, so I've been extremely upset about it. It's very difficult for me to cut the hours without my health getting worse and that's the problem, I mean I'm - that's why it's such a vicious circle because of course if people's care is cut or they decide they can only afford less care then of course their health suffers, which means it's a very short term policy because in the long term if your health suffers you need more care.

ATKINSON
But the government would argue that actually you do - there is not a bottomless pit, local authorities don't have endless supplies of funds and therefore people do have to contribute if they are able to.

BEECHEY
I think I've already paid through a long working life of tax and national insurance contributions, I still pay tax, I pay council tax - I think I've already paid for this. If you have kids in school you don't have to pay extra for the basic tuition, you don't have to pay extra for basic healthcare and yet people who are already relatively impoverished, relative to how they'd be if they were well enough to work, are having their charges incredibly increased and it's extremely unfair.

ROBINSON
Veronica Beechey. Well Kate McMullen from SCOPE co-wrote the report for the Coalition on Charging. Kate, how many people are affected by this policy change?

MCMULLEN
Well in 2002 the Department of Health released figures that there were 382,000 people that use home care services, such as Veronica described, so these people will be assessed under this new guidance.

ROBINSON
Now the whole intention, as I said, was that charges should be fairer, should be similar wherever you live in England, why hasn't that happened?

MCMULLEN
Well the government introduced the guidance to create a more consistent policy, it is still up to local authorities to use their discretion - they can choose not to charge people. And the Coalition on Charging is finding that many, if not all, local authorities are now charging.

ROBINSON
So in a sense the guidelines have really become a reason to add - to bring charges in for authorities who didn't do it before?

MCMULLEN
It has focused many local authorities that they can do this and many local authorities that were not charging before have looked at charging.

ROBINSON
Now Veronica Beechey says that in her case that her charges have increased 500 per cent, and we contacted the Department of Health and they didn't want to come on but they did give us a statement. What they say is: where there are significant increases in charges this should be explained and considered in consultation with users and carers. What on earth does that mean?

MCMULLEN
Well you can explain the charges but by the sounds of it they're still going to happen and the Coalition on Charges in this report shows that this is happening to a number of disabled and older people. They're experiencing a few hundred per cent rise in their charge. For instance a man in the report who's 73 years old, recently retired, worked all his life, needs 14 hours care a week, he paid £12 up until last year and under the new guidance is now paying £112 a week for these essential services which we're talking about getting out of bed, getting a bath, going to the shops. So these are really essential services that non-disabled people take for granted.

ROBINSON
But if I just take you back to that statement from the Department, might it be that if your bills have gone up massively and it hasn't been explained and there hasn't been consultation that there might be some legal basis to appeal?

MCMULLEN
There is always the - the charges should always be reasonable, it says that in the guidance, it's up to each local authority how they interpret that and how they think it reflects on the individuals - individual financial circumstances. There is the opportunity to appeal locally and go through the local authority's complaints procedure and also to contact the Coalition on Charging on how to do this.

ROBINSON
Could I ask you briefly - some people must be better off because the very poorest people have been taken out of paying altogether.

MCMULLEN
There is - which we welcome - there is an income - a minimum income protection that has been introduced through the guidance. It's income support plus a 25 per cent buffer and income support is a breadline benefit, so it is really those that are poorest.

ROBINSON
Kate McMullen from the Coalition on Charging thank you.

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