Minimum Income Guarantee – a deep financial injustice?

Minimum Income Guarantee – a deep financial injustice?

*  Stretched budget: a freeze on minimum income means people have less money in real terms

A combination of the failure by the  Government to update charging regulations and the financial squeeze which has taken place on local authority budgets has caused major injustice for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged within our society including people with severe learning disabilities. Accidental oversight, or a conscious and deliberate attack by Government on those least able to bear it and argue against it? Brian Collinge weighs the evidence

Under the Care Act 2014, people qualifying to receive care support from their local authority are subject to an income assessment. If their income exceeds prescribed limits, they have to contribute to the cost of their care. The rules which the local authority must follow in assessing people are set out in the Care and Support (Charging and Assessment of Resources) Regulations 2014. Different arrangements apply to people who enter a care home as opposed to people who receive care in the community. For people receiving care in the community, the regulations prescribe that local authorities must leave those receiving care with sufficient monies to meet their housing costs and any specific allowable disability expenses, plus an amount known as the minimum income guarantee.

In April 2015 the minimum income guarantee, set by the Department of Health and circulated to local authorities, was set at 151. 45 per week. It includes a basic allowance (for people aged over 25), a disability premium and an enhanced disability premium. Since then there has been no change in this amount. By not adjusting for inflation  this means that the value of the minimum income guarantee has dropped each year leaving the most vulnerable in society having to pay £327 per year more than they would have had to pay had their income level been adjusted.

Two other factors exacerbate the problem:

  • The minimum income guarantee is just that, i.e. a minimum, and local authorities could allow people with disabilities a higher level of oncome before they start contributing. Although some authorities used to be more generous, the withdrawal of grants and the financial squeeze on their budgets has meant that most have moved to taking 100% of the excess over the minimum guarantee. For some people this has meant a loss of over £700 a year.
  • The income support which people used to receive has now been replaced by Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). On the face of it this appears to mean an increased level of income for people on disability benefits. However, for those who need social care, the generosity is an illusion, as local authorities take 100% of income above the minimum income guarantee, so it is only they who benefit and not the ESA recipient. The government is therefore being disingenuous in claiming that the changes to ESA are generous and help people with severe disabilities to have a higher level of income.

Sad saga

This is a sad saga and there are three aspects which are particularly curious, worrying and disappointing.

Firstly, given that this is a major injustice affecting those who are most economically marginalised, why has there been no publicity or protest about it?

Secondly, although there has been no publicity about this injustice, there has been a lot of publicity (and Government action to legislate but not implement) for changes to the Care Act. These changes, if implemented, would put a cap on how much people had to pay for their own care. For people with severe learning disabilities and their families this is about basics like education, respite care and the reasonable hope that when parents come to die their child will be OK and live in a society that actual cares. However, the changes have been delayed pending a Green Paper on the whole topic of social care.

Thirdly, who should be blamed for this injustice? Ultimately, a Government Minister must be responsible, provided they knew about it and possibly even if they did not. What about Parliamentary oversight of whether change and updating to regulations is needed?  Under the Care Act 2014 the Secretary of State must have regard to the general duty of local authorities to promote individual well-being. It is difficult to reconcile how telling local authorities  for three consecutive years not to adjust amounts prescribed under regulation for inflation, is consistent with the well-being duty. I feel that these circulars may therefore be legally challengeable.

Brian Collinge  is the father of a son with severe learning disabilities and also a former local authority Chief Executive

A longer version of this article, with detailed information on income levels, costings and legislation, is available on our website at LINK HERE