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Money & Rights

Money and Rights News: March

Government sets out ten year NHS plan

Theresa May has launched a ten year plan for the NHS, setting out ambitions that she says will save almost 500,000 lives. 

The plans include a proposal to extent to five million patients the option of 'personal budgets' to enable them to find their own choice of treatment, or prescriibed hobbies under a 'personalisation' agenda. 

So far almost 40,000 patients have received the budgets, which have attracted much criticism from those who say the money is being used to buy luxurious items, with horse riding, holidays and even pets funded by the scheme.

Supporters say, however, that this so-called 'social prescribing' reduces loneliness, and reliance on painkillers and antidepressants. Research from pilot schemes found that GPs who referred patients to classes like gardening, tango dancing and fishing saw a 25% reduction in visits to A&E units.

The plan also calls for new legislation to streamline bureaucracy, and place a duty on health organisations to work together in the interests of patients, measures which officials say could help save the NHS £700m.

An extra £2.3bn is to be set aside for mental health, with pledges to expand acces to services for children. 

The plan also promises £4.5bn to strengthen community services, and ensure more patients are treated at home or closer to home. The plan says efforts to keep patients out of NHS wards also mean hospitals and community services need to work more closely together. And it calls for more joint efforts between councils and the NHS, to prevent wrangles over funding, and needless long stays in hospital for the elderly.

The plan was significant for its omissions too. There was nothing about social care or the long awauited Green Paper on the subject. Nor was there anything about the four-hour target for waiting in A&E (not met since July 2015) or the other repeatedly missed target of 92% of people needing operations having them carried out within 18 weeks. Both targets are expected to be scrapped.

State Benefits changes hit age gap older couples

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is to introduce changes to pension age State benefits that will impact older couples who have a significant age gap between them. 

The change will affect couples claiming certain benefits wheree one has reached state pension age but the other is younger.

Under current rules, married couples are able to transition from working age to pension age beenfits as soon as the older of othe two reaches state pension age, but from May 15, 2019, they will only be able to make the switch once the younger spouse reached pension age.

The move will impact benefits such as Housing Benefit, Universal Credit and Pension Credit.

The DWP says that the change will ensure that younger people do not gain additional benefits simply because they have an older spouse. However, pension firm Royal London estimates that the change could cost some couple more than £7000 a year. 

Readers may have missed the announcement as, in the time honoured fashion for governments to 'bury bad news', it was announced the night before the crucial House of Commons vote on Theresa May's Brexit Deal (the one on the 15th January which she lost by 230 votes).

Note that mixed age couples who are already claiming pension age benefits will not be affected.

Councils profit from rising funeral fees

Inflation busting rises to cremation and burial fees meant councils profited from funerals to the tune of almost £100m in 2018. Fee increases have been so steep that local authorities' cremation, burial and morturary sevices are operating on a profit margin of 43%. Critics describe the charges as immoral and accuse local authorities of pushing residents into "funeral poverty".

Meanwhile the Competition & Markets Authority is investigating the funeral market after an 84% increase in crematorium fees over the past 10 years.

Hefty fine for Santander

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has fined Santander £32,817,000 for failing to effectively process the accounts and investments of deceased customers.

Santander did not transfer funds totalling more than £183m to beneficiaries when it should have done, affecting more than 40,000 customers. 

In some cases, funds were help for many years, contributing to beneficiaries being deprived of the use of them. Santander says it has now almost completed the transfer of funds from affected accounts to beneficiaries and, where appropriate, has paid interest on the funds to compensate them for the delay, together with compensation for any consequential loss that was suffered. 

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