“The BBC reports that ‘tens of thousands’ of vulnerable people could be missing out on a council tax discount. People with severe mental impairment are entitled to a discount on council tax. For those living alone, this amounts to a 100% discount. For those living in two-person households the discount is only 25%. A person is severely mentally impaired if they have a severe impairment of intelligence and social functioning which appears to be permanent, such as dementia. Research by MoneySavingExpert.com, quoted by the BBC, has shown a massive variation in the number claiming this entitlement in different council areas with as few as 10 or 11 residents claiming in some areas, but over 420 in other areas with equivalent populations. Presumable this reflects that some local councils work much harder to make residents aware of entitlement than do others. It should not be left to chance. It may be worth £1,500 a year for some people.
Behind this is the much wider question of who should pay for the care that demented people need. When I started to work in Old Age Psychiatry in the late 1970s the agreed NHS provision for older people with severe dementia was set at 3 ‘beds’ AND 2-3 Day Hospital places per 1,000 population over the age of 65 years. That has all gone and most care for people with dementia is now redefined as ‘social’ care which means any provision is means tested, and public provision in these days of austerity is severely restricted.
As the furore about the so-called ‘dementia tax’ proposed in the run up to the last election showed, people are deeply uneasy about people with dementia and their families being left to bear the financial risks of such a devastating illness which affects up to a fifth of people over the age of 85. There is no doubt in my mind that the various forms of dementia are illnesses and that it is quite unfair that we have maintained NHS provision for other conditions, but chosen to redefine dementia as a group of ‘social diseases’. Nye Bevan’s vision of health services for all, free at the point of use and paid for out of general taxation seems to be fading. The council tax discount is a very small step, but surely all councils should make sure that those entitled to it receive it. The dementia charities such as Alzheimer’s Society and Dementia UK deserve our support as they campaign for fair treatment of people with dementia and their families.”