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 195.

    Whatever we do, we must not use the NHS model for social care. That would be the disaster it has been for health care.
    Free at the point of need has led to expectations of the very finest health care that the economy simply cannot afford.
    The state-run behemoth (4th largest employer in the World) cannot be run at anything approaching efficiency and cost effectiveness - vastly too big.

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    Our disrespect toward older and disabled people is yet another symptom of a society preoccupied with the superficial and banal - the identikit 'celebs' that dominate our media and the forked-tongued, style-over-substance millionaire MPs. Experience counts for nothing; anyone who isn't considered sufficiently young / cool / attractive to partake in consumer culture is written off as worthless.

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    1. Private care only: saves on public sector pension costs. 2. Families pay for the cost of care when the elderly can't. 4. Costs of administering an enforcement system are bourne by the families of the elderly. 5. The state only pays when there are no relatives to pay. 6. The state pays for it by ending pension payments from the public sector pension scheme to anyone under the age of 75.

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    You were all cared for, fed, clothed & nursed by someone in your family from birth, usually but not always a parent, two if you were lucky. They made sacrifices for you. Pay it back, don't be selfish & expect the State to do it for you, unless there are medical reasons for which you are not trained to manage, in which case, help should be available

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    The burden of care rests with Social Services not with the NHS. A clear distinction was made back in 1948 and it been a challenge ever since with the NHS avoiding their responsibilities where possible. The system for paying for care has always been unfair with idle sapping the rest. It's cheaper to provide care privately because they don't have the benefits the public sector enjoy, been there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    "Big Society; small government" means that the state withdraws as much funding from the public sector as possible. The state provides a penal system, and the 'Markets' provide everything else - healthcare, education everything. This has been the case since Thatcher and is being accelerated by Cameron - a die-hard marketeer. So, if you can't afford your old age care - tough. Try charity. Great, eh?

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    If I end up redundant and can't find a job, I would be happy to work for my dole money by helping in social care

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    Agree with all but you missed the biggest one: a 'war on obesity' fuelled by prejudice and the need for scapegoats."

    I take it that you're a "victim" of obesity, then?

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    It is the destruction of the famility and its replacement by the state that is the cause of the crisis in care for the elderly. Care within a familiy context is however likely to return becasuse pretty soon thats all the care that there is likely to be. This has to be the right solution for the majority with the minority (i.e. those that have no familiy) being cared for by the state.

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    The Social Welfare system is not failing, it has failed! It needs abolishing completely - the UK can no longer afford these over generous services and it is high time individuals and familes took care of their own!

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    160.bluest-man "We need an open debate on spending priorities"
    Agree with all but you missed the biggest one: a 'war on obesity' fuelled by prejudice and the need for scapegoats. Lots of other 'self-inflicted' risks to health which aren't singled out for the same levels of spending or media attention. How much social care could the Change4Life or gastric surgery budgets buy if reallocated?

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    They'll just prorastinate and let people die. It's cheaper that way. It's the same in hospital where they will say old people are refusing food or will choke so they can't feed them. If there are no relatives to help or make sure theye are not being neglected they will soon enough anyway. It's euthanasia by any other word. I was told I was wasting my time feeding my mother.

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    The media need to play their part. Instead of endless stories about 'celebrity' they should be reporting on the things that REALLY matter to us. Maternity care, care of the elderly, disabled and otherwise vulnerable are top of MY list.

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    166 Oh dear Will, what a silly, uninformed rant. Social care has been in this state for years. Tony Blair wanted to start to tackle the issue by merging the health and care budgets and Whitehall nearly exploded. The situation is if you are feckless, don't save, you get everything free, if you cautious and save you get punished. It ain't fair. I am not sure of the solution still mind.

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.


    ConDems' hands are tied in terms of money & legacy of Labour NHS reforms - Labour claim NHS reforms their greatest 'achievement' but NHS + elderly care is in fin. crisis.
    Same with Olympics - spending already committed by Labour so not Condem mistake - but still colossal waste of money for 99.9% of UK population - but ConDems need to show big society at work here

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    Social Care should be free, we have all paid National Insurance contributions, which should have been ring fenced for National Health and Social Care. As the government has used this money for pet projects, they should take some of their personal wealth and repay the tax payers for missuse

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    Hi! irk@159:
    "The demographics have completely changed since WWII. People can't get a job for life that pays a living wage and a living pension.

    I agree to SOME extent - but if we 'Means-Test' the FAMILIES - as I suggested - then we'll SEE if they can offord to help their Parents or NOT - seems fair?...

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    Oh at last that place called England gets a look in! Frankly it's been a scandal waiting to be acted upon and now they have realised that hospitals are not always the answer. Hospital is for the ill, not the old or infirm, but the ethos of splitting families in search of the almighty buck and taxation policy is now coming home to roost.

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    To be honest, I can't see any major problems with the current system. It encourages people to save for their old age, and the state provides a basic standard of care for people who have exhausted their means of private funding.

    I don't like the idea of cross party talks on the issue, since all 3 main parties had very different policies on social care at the last election.

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    We need a radical re-think of how we, as a state, we meet our duty of care to those citizens in need of support. We have many experts who know how to deliver quality social care & support to those unable (through age or disability) to look after themselves. Politicians should take a back seat in the decision about how it's done, their job is to administer our money to pay for it.


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