Politicians urged to seize chance to change social care

Elderly person Ministers are looking to publish plans for social care reform in the spring

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Politicians from all parties have been urged to work together to find a way to overhaul the "failing" social care system in England.

Cross-party talks about the care given to the elderly and disabled failed in 2010 but will start again this month.

In an open letter, charities, faith-based groups and senior figures in the NHS and local government say the opportunity must not be missed.

Plans to reform social care will be put forward in the spring, ministers said.

But before that politicians are seeking to achieve cross-party consensus on the best way forward.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, Lib Dem health minister Paul Burstow and shadow health secretary Andy Burnham are expected to hold the first in a series of meetings within the next few weeks.

In the letter sent to the prime minister and published in the Daily Telegraph, 72 signatories, including leading figures from charities such as Carers UK and Age UK, as well as peers, academics and members of the British Medical Association and NHS Confederation, have suggested they should not squander the opportunity.

How does social care work?

  • To get state-funded social care individuals are assessed on needs and means.
  • Each council sets its own threshold for how incapacitated a person has to be to be eligible for help. Most have been increasing this bar in recent years.
  • If someone does qualify for help, the amount of savings they have is taken into account.
  • Those with savings of under £13,000 get free care.
  • Between £13,000 and £23,250 individuals have to contribute to the costs. Above the higher amount they have to pay for all of it themselves.
  • A government-commissioned review published in the summer suggested changes to this system.
  • The review, carried out by economist Andrew Dilnot, recommended a new partnership between the state and individual.
  • People needing care should be responsible for the first £35,000 of costs with the state picking up the tab for the rest, he said.
  • The cross-party talks that are getting under way this month will use these recommendations as the basis for trying to reach agreement on the funding situation.

The letter said: "We should celebrate the fact that we are all living longer lives, particularly disabled people and those with long-term conditions.

"But the unavoidable challenge we face is how to support the increasing number of people who need care.

"It is currently a challenge which we are failing to meet - resulting in terrible examples of abuse and neglect in parts of the care system.

"This comes at huge cost to the dignity and independence of older and disabled people, but also to our society, family life and the economy."

'At risk'

The letter went on to say people were being left "lonely, isolated and at risk" because of the problems with the current system.

It cited research produced by Age UK which suggested that of the 2m people with care needs, 800,000 were not getting any support because councils had started restricting access to services.

In a separate interview with the BBC, Councillor David Rogers of the Local Government Association said councils, which are in control of running the means-tested system, are united in their view of the need for change.

He said: "There is no doubt about the urgency and need for reform. Without exception, across local government all parties are in agreement. National politicians must try to come up with something."

Chair of the Care and Support Alliance Simon Gillespie: ''The current system is broken''

Attempts to reform the system collapsed before the last election after cross-party talks failed.

Labour accused the Tories of dirty tricks after they launched a campaign suggesting Mr Burnham, who was then health secretary, wanted to introduce a death tax to pay for changes to the system.

Once again, the way any new system is paid for is expected to be the most controversial and difficult element of the discussions.

Last summer a government-commissioned review by the economist Andrew Dilnot recommended a partnership between the state and individual with people responsible for the first £35,000 of their social care costs and the government picking up the bill after that.

But questions still remain over how affordable this is for both parties.

The government refused to comment on the upcoming talks, but Mr Burstow said ministers saw reform of social care as an "urgent priority".

Mr Burnham added reforming social care was the "biggest public policy challenge the country faces".

"This is an issue that transcends party politics and we look forward to playing our part in any discussions."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    I don't really see what the problem is. We don't need lasting changes. We need to ride out one large generation's retirement, and the system returns to sustainable. This is surely what national debt is for, if nothing else! Same with present housing crisis and so on. Our average family size is smaller now, the problem for future generations has already been dealt with. It's a temporary problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    The demographic time bomb will soon mean that we simply do not have enough adults to look after all the old people, whatever policy is adopted. But rather than bring in millions of immigrants to help, how about encouraging old people to emigrate? We can more easily afford to pay poor Africans to look after our old people in Africa than here in the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    I was too ill to look after my Mother so she went in to a nursing home.
    My parents had worked their entire adult lives but she had no savings.
    Social services took her pension and left her with a weekly allowance for personal items, it was NOT enough to cover ,clothes. hair cuts etc. I know her pension did not covered the cost of her care but I feel she was made to pay more than she could

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    Shock Horror .People born from 1946 to 1951 reach retirement age between 2006 and 2016 and may need social care. We have known this for years and yet successive govts did nothing. Now we have a crisis which could have been avoided with a bit of forwardplanning. But when did politicians last do anything other than short term popularist fixes

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    We have friends who are disabled and 5 years ago the care system was failing them, why should we be so surprised that it is now failing the elderly. The majority of carers receive lousy money and due to workload are not able to do their job.My personal experience of Social Workers has been good their money is terrible and also a heavy workload.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    One solution to the problem might be to remove all state involvement from social care, hand it over to the private sector, let the free market dictate prices and then the government can claim that it is no longer their resposability.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    While ever Politicians are not affected "personally" by this nothing will be done, they have gilt edged pensions, and loads of cash stolen during the expenses scandal, and they can of course sell off there Second Homes to fund care in later life. We do not have that luxury.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    Aged NOT always cuddly old dears. Ma is obstinate, unpleasant and alienating all who used to care about her, unable to cope but insisting she's in control She can't get into bath, no lift/seat will fit. Social Services are content with this - constant urinary infections result. Keeps all her savings to pay for care home eventually - if she spent them she wouldn't have to pay. Hell on earth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    Care in the Community needs to be urgently looked at. But I do not feel the Government is too worried about this. If they were, why raise the cost of meals on wheels for the elderly. It is beyond my comprehension.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    I can't see what justification there is for elderly care to NOT be part of the NHS - if you need help because your health is failing owing to old age, this SURELY is a medical requirement?

    We need many more small assisted living blocks for the elderly who are still mostly independant but need some care. This should be provided by the state, they should pay rent, but the care should be free.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    Crux of the problem: Since WWII corporations have been allowed to consolidate, grow into global giants and dictate the terms under which we are allowed to work for them. Salaries for average workers stopped keeping pace with inflation in the 60s, forcing mothers into the workplace, children into nursery when still babies, a disintegration of the family unit, reliance on the state for elderly care.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    Means testing destroys the incentive to save for your own retirement and care. The current system penalises the careful & rewards the irresponsible

    The solution is to have a 2 tier system. Basic state care or private care with a contribution from the state. This may be politically unnacceptable but it would be fairer to those who save & would reduce the overall burden on the taxpayer

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    Clearly an unfair system but the bank account is in the red so not sure we can afford a fair system, I am very sorry to say.

    We all know that those that do and pay nothing get treated better than those who work and save, that's just the way it is and the last Labour government made it easier and easier for people to scrounge.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    Care in the community, or lack of care, is a form of euthanasia introduced by Common Purpose initiatives to cut costs. If we really wish to care for our elderly then we must reform the system so that the NHS, Social Services, DWP and other health professionals become more responsible for the welfare of the elderly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    Arthur Daley @64
    And so…?

    INFINITY of lines can be drawn (geographic, generational, religious, occupational, racial, recreational, etc), with 'differences' that can be highlighted for 'missing the point' ends

    Primary fault is inequality: worsening under rule of Fear & Greed, spurious 'lines of division' supporting & supported by a vast industry of 'money & mischief' churners

    FIRST move: SHARE

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    #88. Agreed entirely. The answer is there is no answer. We cannot,should not and must not keep trying to extend our lives to the point where those that come after us are forced to live in poverty to pay for our generations fixation with living forever.Medical science should work to enhance our quality of life not quantity of life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    Scrap it - charity and family will provide for those who cannot afford to pay for it themselve.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    We need quality services, here as in other areas too. These have to be paid for. Fairness is a factor in that but in many cases, the perceived unfairness is from those who hoped to inherit. Even so, are we really going to abandon those who can't afford to save, or even the feckless?

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    Another sweeping and inaccurate statement. STOP blaming nurses for the ills of society. I say that as a hard-working, caring nurse who also cares for an elderly relative (not an unusual situation amongst my colleagues). Aim your misdirected vitriol elsewhere. Nurses are sick of being villified and blamed for a broken system.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    The main problem with EVERYTHING in the UK is that, if you have degree & diploma a plenty you get the job, it matters not if you are practically useless at actually doing the job as long as you're academically brilliant. I lost count years ago concerning the number of 'professionals' I've met who don't have a clue how to do the jobs they are supposedly 'trained' for, including in government!


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