Care spending relief for elderly

The struggle of the increasing numbers of ageing people to pay for long-term care may get government relief after ministers announced a study into the way social care is funded.

The struggle of the increasing numbers of ageing people to pay for long-term care may get government relief after ministers announced a study into the way social care is funded.

The “much despised” mean-testing system, which calculates how much elderly people pay depending on their income and savings, could become a thing of the past as the government looks to address one of its greatest social challenges.

Proposals for a green paper to examine social care were contained in Chancellor Alistair Darling spending review on Tuesday when he pledged to increase the social care budget to £1.5bn.

Critics claim means testing is complex and often unfair on the most vulnerable people. At present only people with assets up to £12,000 have their care paid for by the state and many elderly people have to sell their homes to fund for their long-term care.

Hilary MacDonald, chief executive of Age Concern in Norfolk, said: “There is a crisis in social care funding and it is good news that the government has recognised the need for a public consultation, which indicates that they are taking the matter seriously.”

The department of health said the review “reflects the fact that society is changing and demands a new system”.

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In a statement, it added: “The new system will have dignity and control at its heart for those who use services and their families.”

However, officials were quick to deny reports that ministers were already planning to scrap means-testing, and replace it with a system of universal entitlements coupled with top-up payments.

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the independent think-tank the King's Fund, said the means-testing system was much despised, and had caused distress and misery to older people and their families.

“The move represents a bold step at addressing one of the greatest social challenges facing the government,” he said.

“The government must now seize this opportunity to achieve a political consensus on how we fund long term care and deliver a fairer system for future generations.

“Our failure to support frail and vulnerable older people has been one of the unrecognised scandals of our time.

The announcement follows publication of a report by former bank chief Sir Derek Wanless into the future of social funding.

Sir Derek called for sharp increases in funding to meet the demand for high quality care over the next two decades, and for the means-tested funding system to be scrapped.

The social care budget, which helps councils pay for services such as home helps which help people stay in their homes, will rise by just £190m to £1.5bn in 2010.

Earlier this year, Norfolk County Council agreed to privatise its home care support, which will see 80pc of its service gradually handed over to independent companies.

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