Government accused of leaving Norfolk people in the dark over social care changes

The government was accused last night of leaving growing numbers of elderly people in the dark over how they will pay for their care in old age.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley has delayed taking a final decision on capping the sky-high bills pensioners in care homes currently face until the next spending review, but indicated the limit could be set as high as �100,000.

Mr Lansley said the publication of a white paper was 'a watershed moment', but charities poured scorn on his claim, pointing out that no real clarity had been given on how the ever-growing costs of caring for the elderly would be met.

Phil Wells, Age UK Norwich chief executive, said: 'The question for most older people is not 'how much will I pay for my care' but 'will there be any care available to me?'.

'None of this is being addressed. There's a deafening silence, which is understandable, as other things seem to be a government priority in spending money.'

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Meanwhile, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation Julia Unwin said: 'We are deeply frustrated that more progress has not been made, and that the decision on how to pay for long-term care has been postponed yet again. The secretary of state says this is a watershed moment. It is not.'

Concerns were raised after the government indicated the cap on the amount any individual would pay for care costs in the future could be set three times higher than the level recommended by an independent commission.

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Meanwhile, thousands of people already paying for care across the region were given a strong signal that money they have already spent will not be taken into account by the government in deciding the point at which they qualify for state help.

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.

Last year an independent 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.

But while the government said no decision to introduce a cap had been taken, documents released yesterday suggested ministers were exploring the idea of making people pay �75,000, or even �100,000, before they received state help.

Meanwhile they also suggested only money spent after a cap policy was introduced would be counted towards people's personal contributions to their care.

It 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.

Speaking to the Eastern Daily Press, Mr Lansley said: 'What the progress report illustrates is that 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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