Government give “strong signal” they will back care cost cap

06:30 17 August 2012

The government may make an announcement on funding for social care in the autumn.

The government may make an announcement on funding for social care in the autumn.

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When Andrew Dilnot’s commission first published recommendations on how the country should pay the growing cost of elderly care they were broadly welcomed; except perhaps at the Treasury, where there was probably a sharp in-take of breath.

The plans would see the taxpayer having to put up an extra £2bn every year. So while charities and groups connected to elderly care were celebrating, government ministers began to play down the chances of Dilnot’s exact proposals being implemented.

Dr Ros Altmann is director general of Saga, a group focussed on serving the needs of the over 50s. She pointed out today that the government would have to spend the money one way or another.

“Funding is the crucial missing piece of the care puzzle and the longer the system is left as it is the more families will suffer,” she said.

“With an ageing population, the state obviously has to spend more on care. The only choice is whether to spend more in a planned way, by making reforms that increase social care provision, or to spend in an unplanned way, when more end up in hospital at an exorbitant cost to the NHS.

“All experts in this field have warned that sorting out social care funding is essential in order to prevent bankrupting the NHS. Dilnot’s proposals are an important part of solving our care crisis and the sooner we get clarity and firm decisions the better.”

Under the current system anyone with assets of more then £23,250 is expected to pay the entire cost of their own care. But individuals have been struggling to meet the bill, with 40,000 forced every year to sell their homes as a result.

Meanwhile, the ageing population means government is faced with a spiralling bill for supporting those who do not pay for themselves.

So last year Dilnot’s commission, tasked by the government to resolve the problem, suggested anyone with assets exceeding £100,000 in value should meet the first £35,000 cost of their own care. After that level, the so-called ‘cap’, the state would pick up the bill.

Initial sounds from inside government were that the £2bn cost of the Dilnot proposals would simply be too expensive as the government was already struggling to get to grips with the public finances.

Then in July the government released a white paper on the issue indicating that while no decision to introduce a cap had been taken, ministers were exploring the idea of making people pay £75,000, or even £100,000, before they received state help.

The news was received with deep concern, until yesterday when reports emerged that the government would commit to Dilnot’s original proposal.

The reports claimed that in a string of government announcements due to come this autumn, a bid to re-launch the coalition, ministers are expected to indicate that the £35,000 cap is the one they will back.

A Department of Health spokesman said that while the government was serious about tackling the issue no final agreement had yet been reached.

He went on to add however: “As we have said any proposal which includes extra public spending must be considered alongside other priorities at the spending review.

“As we made clear when we published our progress report on care and support-funding reform, the government supports the principles of a capped-cost model as recommended by the Dilnot Commission.

“It would, as Andrew Dilnot himself said, enable people to plan and prepare, so that they are not so vulnerable to the arbitrary impact of catastrophic care costs.”

Speaking to the Eastern Daily Press Mr Dilnot said: “The reports we have seen in the last few days are not a formal announcement, but it does appear that it is a further strong signal that ministers will go down this path.

“We said in our report that we thought the cap should be between £25,000 and £50,000. The reason we had £50,000 as the top end of the range was because it appeared that much over that would expose parts of the population to higher risks.”

Norfolk County Council was aware of 3,368 people who funded their own care in 2011/12, with a further 25,193 people who received help from the state.

Phil Wells, chief executive of Age Concern UK in Norwich, said: “The cap is the only way of people getting security because it means they can have certainty in planning and that is the critical thing.

“The majority of people actually don’t spend anything like the amount of the cap on care. But there are a few people that have to spend vast amounts, especially those that have years suffering from dementia.

“So this is a way of making sure that those people that have a particularly difficult time, that we all feel need more support, are not having to spend everything they have and losing their homes. If it’s brought in, it would be a huge weight of their shoulders.”

Further important details of the eventual funding package remain unresolved as well. In particular it has been suggested that only money spent after a cap policy was introduced would be counted towards people’s personal contributions to their care.

That means that someone, for example, who has spent £35,000 on care when a £35,000 cap came in, would then have to spend the same amount again before getting any help from the state.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley told the EDP earlier this year: “There are some practical difficulties with trying to construct a cap which related to the past, as opposed to one in which once [the cap] is introduced the clock started ticking.

He added: “There are very large deadweight costs associated with trying to give people access to a cap on debt when assimilating [money people have spent in the past] - it’s intensely difficult in practical terms.”


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