Minister’s pledge to tackle funding of care for elderly
PUBLISHED: 14:19 15 October 2012 | UPDATED: 14:47 15 October 2012
© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2012
New minister for care services Norman Lamb has told the EDP that tackling how we fund long-term care for the elderly is his top priority.
There is broad support for a cap on costs facing individuals but how to pay for the £1.7bn proposals is a thorny issue at a time when public finances are under intense pressure.
Mr Lamb said: “I am absolutely determined we crack this. We cannot allow this to drag on ad infinitum. We need to bring it to a conclusion.
“We have agreed the principle. We have to sort out how to pay for it. This whole thing has been in the long grass for far too long.”
The North Norfolk MP is acutely aware of the need to plan for the country’s ageing population as his own constituency has one of the oldest age profiles in the country.
Currently many elderly people are forced to sell the homes they have spent a lifetime working for just to pay huge care home fees.
Before the last general election, as the Liberal Democrat’s health spokesman, Mr Lamb, together with the then health secretary Andrew Lansley and Labour’s Andy Burnham came together for cross-party negotiations on the funding of long-term care for the elderly.
But a Tory campaign on the so-called “death tax” scuppered the talks.
Now, given that Mr Lamb and Mr Burnham, who is Labour’s health spokesman once again, have worked together on this issue before, Mr Lamb is hopeful of new talks with all three parties already agreeing in principle to the Dilnot report.
Last year the Dilnot Commission, led by economist Andew Dilnot, tabled proposals for a £35,000 cap on individual liability for care costs and an increase from £23,250 to £100,000 in the asset threshold beyond which the state makes no contribution.
Ministers say they accept the principle of a cap, which would account for most of the £1.7bn costs in the first full year of such a scheme, but the Treasury is said to be blocking it.
Mr Lamb said: “There an acute sense of unfairness that if you work hard throughout your life, if you are careful with your money, budget carefully, you get to old age and you are unlucky enough to get dementia - you lose everything you have ever worked for. And the person next door, who has frittered away their money, saved nothing for retirement, gets it all for free.
“There’s a real sense of unfairness there and Dilnot can be seen as a sort of asset protection scheme which protects people against catastrophic loss.
“And I think that there’s a good case for that. But I’m sure people will understand that if you introduce a cap on costs that you will incur then there’s a cost for that for the state, so you then you have to ask where that money comes from. That’s where we haven’t got agreement yet and where we need to get agreement and I have got to try to get that to a conclusion.”
“I absolutely don’t want it to be years,” he said. “I see it as a top priority. I think people need some clarity about the future and I think we have got an historic opportunity to bring this to a conclusion.
“There are lots of options. Could you stop doing something else in government to pay for this? Could you try to make something else more efficient? Or could you have a separate payment that we all make, a care contribution, so that it covers the costs?
“I would be interested to know what people think and as a local MP I’m going to do my own consultation to find out what people think about how we should pay for it.”
Mr Lamb said he has ideas about how it should be funded, but admitted he was reluctant to air them in public, saying that if he promotes one particular solution it could be more difficult for him to get other people to agree.
However, he did say he does not think it should be funded from within the existing health and social care system and any solution has to be seen to be fair.
“I think this transcends party politics. We should try to do this on a consensual basis if we possibly can.”
DRAFT CARE AND SUPPORT BILL
Earlier this year the government unveiled the draft Care and Support Bill, the most significant reform of the care system in 60 years.
The Coalition says the bill aims to put the person receiving the care and their carers centre stage.
Mr Lamb will be working towards making its proposals happen, such as giving people the right to take their care package with them from one part of the country to another until they are able to be reassessed, and setting a standard to when people should be entitled to support from their council, as currently it differs from local authority to local authority. He said that over the last decade a massive investment in the health service had not been matched in the social care sector.
“It would make sense to invest in the preventative services to stop the crises occurring further down the line and so we have a system that is crying out for reform,” he said.
Mr Lamb is passionate about integrated care and particularly wants to see health and social care organisations work together more closely to provide joint services and support.
He said: “The other thing that I want as a central theme in my time doing this job, which can happen soon and doesn’t have to be a long-term ambition, is this concept of integrated care.”
Mr Lamb has convened a round- table of experts in integrated care, which is due to meet soon, and believes that this approach will not only improve care but also lead to financial savings.
YOUNG PEOPLE’S CARE SERVICES
The EDP challenged Mr Lamb about what would be done to help young people with complex health and care needs, particularly those who are placed inappropriately in residential homes for old people because there is nowhere else for them to live.
He said: “It’s about making sure people have the right and appropriate care for their age.
“Shoving someone in their 20s or 30s into an older people’s home is completely inappropriate.”
He said the government would be responding soon to a report on the scandal at Winterbourne View in Bristol, where disabled people were taunted and beaten.
“We have got a big task to ensure that we have got appropriate care for their needs,” he acknowledged.
The pay, conditions and training of care staff are also issues of concern for many who work in the industry and use care services.
Mr Lamb said: “Care workers deserve our utmost respect because they are doing often very challenging work in very difficult circumstances and I don’t think that they receive from society generally the respect that they deserve.
“I think there needs to be an overall objective of increasing their skills and their sense of professionalism and we have got to make sure that they are paid decent wages.
“The last thing you want to do is exploit people who are doing that very challenging work. Society as a whole has to be prepared to pay for that because there are more and more people in care homes and the cost of that keeps growing.”
He said the government was doubling the number of apprenticeships in the care sector by 2017 to get more people into the care sector with skills, as well as introducing minimum training standards for care homes, which will be monitored by the Care Quality Commission as part of assessments and inspections.