The social care taper, an outdated and unfair postcode lottery


Our Chief Executive, Lesslie Young looks at the social care taper, which has become an outdated and unfair postcode lottery.

Self-directed Support (SDS) has become the mainstream approach to social care in Scotland. If a person has been assessed as eligible for social care support and their Individual Budget has been calculated, the Local Authority or Integration Authority may charge for some of the elements of the support.

Income from all sources is considered including net earnings and all social security benefits, with the exception of the mobility component of disability benefits.

The threshold, which determines whether people should pay, is linked to the benefit rates set by the DWP.

To prevent all a service user’s income above these rates being taken in charges, a buffer is added. This buffer is currently set at 25%.

The current threshold calculation for single person is as follows: £74.35 (Income Support, Personal Allowance) + £34.95 (Disability Premium) + £27.33 (Buffer, 25%) = £137

If a person’s income is deemed to be sufficient for a charge or contribution to be required, the amount the person pays will be determined by Local Authorities and Integration Authorities.

A percentage taper is applied to the available income over the threshold to determine a maximum contribution (see example table below).

Single Person Age under 60Maximum Contribution (£) % determined by council
Weekly User IncomeCharging ThresholdExcess Income30%40%50%60%70%80%90%100%

COSLA 2020/21 – Changes Applying to Social Care Support for people at home


A postcode lottery

Despite COSLA setting guidance for the policy of charging clients for the care they receive at home, the amount individuals pay is decided by their local authority.

At present, if someone lives in the Glasgow City Council area and has a monthly income of £600, they are charged a 50% taper of their excess income and pay £126 a month towards their care.

However, if that same person lived in Clackmannanshire, they would be charged a 75% taper and pay £189 a month.

Borders Council are currently consulting to increase their charging taper to 100%. This would mean someone receiving £600 a month would pay £252 if they lived in the Borders area, double what those in Glasgow with the same circumstances would pay.

The significant disparity in charging across local authorities is wholly unfair. It means financial wellbeing is determined by postcode, arbitrarily granting significantly more financial freedom to some over others.

Social care


Why is the taper necessary?

Client contributions make up an incredibly small portion of a local authority’s social care budget. However, the need to pay this money may have a massively negative impact on the lives of adults who require support.

Those who require social care support are not doing so through choice. They often have a disability like epilepsy or learning disability. This kind of support allows them to live as independent a life as possible.

Removing what is euphemistically termed “excess income” raises serious questions about fairness and equality. The taper sends a clear twofold message.

Those with a disability are not entitled to enjoy the quality of life which may be associated with these generally modest sums – going to the cinema, meeting friends at a café or making a short trip.

Secondly, local authorities are viewing this as a legitimate income stream which is clearly evidenced by Borders Council looking at increasing their taper to 100%.

The purpose here is transparent for all to see. I suggest many would question the legitimacy of demanding such contributions from those who have no choice in their need for support, not to mention the moral compass that guided this thinking.

Worse than this, the taper further disadvantages a group which are already disproportionately affected by poverty.

The Scottish Government estimates a quarter of families with at least one disabled member live in relative poverty after housing costs. Children are particularly impacted, 1 in 3 children with a disabled parent live in poverty in Scotland.

This begs the question, how do local authorities define poverty, and decide what is an acceptable amount to be left with at the end of the month?

Local authorities do not assess personal circumstances when charging individuals, someone with dependents who has more outgoings is charged the same as someone without.

The DWP decide people need this extra money to live however, local authorities are taking sizable chunks away to plug a hole in their budgets. It is pushing people into poverty and must come to an end.


Time for change

I welcome the news the Scottish Government is going to conduct a review of social care and will consider a National Care Service, with a report due to be published in January 2021.

This self-serving practice of charging people for their social care based on postcode must be ended. Client contributions barely dent local authority social care budgets but do significantly and disproportionately impact the quality of life of those who pay them.

The time of people with disabilities being punished financially for having a condition which requires support is over. The time for them to live as independently as possible with the support they require to do so is now.