Cap on Care Costs Delayed

The government have not fully committed to a cap on care costs for the elderly and disabled in England, saying they need to consider cheaper options first due to the current economic climate.

Ministers revealed funding ideas including a higher cap or asking people to pay a fee to opt in to the system. The announcement on funding came about as a result of a white paper and draft bill which sets out other changes to social care.

On taking power, the coalition had said it would look at funding amid concerns from councils and the elderly and disabled who rely on the services that the system was struggling to cope.

Last year economist, Andrew Dilnot recommended a £35,000 cap on lifetime care costs. However, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said while it was the “right basis” for change he could not yet fully commit to it and that a final decision would be made by the next spending review which could be two years away.

Other options that the government considered included raising the level of the cap to £75,000 or asking people to opt in by paying an upfront fee. Those that did not pay the fee would face unlimited costs. Another option considered was reducing benefits targeted at the elderly such as winter fuel payments, free TV licences and travel concessions.

The Dilnot review also recommended the wealth threshold at which people no longer get state help should be increased from £23,250 to £100,000 for those needing residential care.

Jeremy Hughes, of the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Millions of people had been promised radical reforms, but today they are being massively let down.”

Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, added the Treasury was “strangling reform” as the Dilnot review was a “ready solution. What they don’t realise is the huge cost to the health service which is mounting by refusing to take action on social care.”

But despite the delay on funding, Mr Lansley was able to announce a series of other changes to the system:

  • Funding – Capping costs is considered the “right basis” for change, but there is no commitment to introduce it. Instead, ministers want to look at cheaper options to the £35,000 level suggested last year.
  • Deferred loan scheme – This will be made available to those who need to pay for residential care. It means the costs they occur can be taken from their estate after death. Interest will be charged.
  • National standards on access – A universal threshold will be set detailing who can get access to care. At the moment each council can set its own criteria. But the risk is that those councils that are more generous now will end up tightening their criteria under the change.
  • Moving home – Those receiving care will get the right to transfer their packages to other parts of the country if they move. Currently they have to undergo new assessments, which results in some losing out.

From 2015 there will be a national standards explaining who is entitled to help at home and residential care places. At the moment, each of the 152 councils in England can set its own eligibility criteria for care for the elderly and disabled.

People facing major costs will also be able to defer payment until after their death. This loan scheme means those who need to go into care homes and are not entitled to state funding will have their fees paid for and then recovered from their estate.

Mr Lansley said “Our plans will bring the most comprehensive overhaul of social care since 1948 and will mean that people get the care and support that they need to be safe and to live well so they don’t reach a crisis point.”

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said: “With no answers on the money, this white paper fails the credibility test – it is half a plan. The proposals set out today are in danger of appearing meaningless and may in fact raise false hopes among older people, their careers and families.”

While the changes apply only to England, the recommendations will be carefully looked at by the other parts of the UK as they are also reviewing their social care systems. Wales and Northern Ireland have similar means-tested systems as England, but in Scotland personal care is provided free although this system is coming under increasing pressure.

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