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 275.

    I don't have any simple answers, but is it significant this letter was written a couple of days before the report on Euthanasia comes out? Poor or non-existant care, social isolation/depression, and constant talk about "affordability" might start many old or disabled, vunerable people asking about an "easy" way out. Worse still, if the financial controllers get the same idea...

  • rate this

    Comment number 274.

    So, the NHS can't fund free care to all those who now (or will soon) need it, so uses means tests. That method penalises the responsible, and is manifestly unfair.

    I read that this funding shortfall will persist for ~30 years on this scale and then abate. So, could government do deals with private companies for staggered long term loans, hypothecated to elderly care?

  • rate this

    Comment number 273.

    #257: I see you're still peddling the same drivel ... do you seriously expect those who generate the nation's wealth by starting, sustaining, and growing businesses to do so for 13K a year? Isn't this idea of "income equality" just the same tired old socialist mantra of "wealth distribution" (otherwise known as theft)?

  • rate this

    Comment number 272.

    @248. chris_cat

    Though, dementia should not fall under social care as it is a medical issue and should fall under NHS care. Trouble is the PCT's try to force the care issue over to the Local authority, and they don't have the intelligence or will power to talk to each other. Even when they are force to consider it, you find that the typical psychiatric assessor is some challenged!

  • rate this

    Comment number 271.

    262. rjohn
    The Tories are in a rush to mimic the US healthcare because they are elitist to the core and represent the same things as the Republican loonies.
    But, just like in the US, they have the majority media backing and are thus enabled to get away with conning the masses.

    Hope this helps...

  • rate this

    Comment number 270.

    What a wonderful comment by 249. Sad but true . And unfortuneately it will only get worse with this (mostly) uncaring and mindless society that only looks after number one!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 269.

    @214 chris_cat
    "You can't just "get on with it."

    Yes you can, because that's exactly what I did & still do for someone with vascular dementia & even wipe his bottom, shower & dress him. right now, he thinks he lives in France & he's not married to his wife of 35+ yrs. Most days we have to remind him, several times a day. It's tough, difficult and yes, I just get on with it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 268.

    253. Andy_Pandy1968

    Do you mean the 50% of the whinging population who put nothing in, but take everything out and still aren't content?
    Personally when it comes to giving the sick, disabled and elderly some decent care and dignity I dont give a damn if they have contributed or not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 267.

    Judging by reading a couple of pages here there is massive misunderstanding of taxation and how its spent in the UK.

    A few months ago Nick Robinson presented a 2 part programme entitled "Your money and how they spend it" which was extremely intersting - I would recommend that everybody watches it before they comment on who pays and who takes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 266.

    You do not need a house and savings if you're going into full-time care (if the person's partner still lives in the house it is disregarded anyway). It therefore seems to me that what people are really upset about is losing out on their inheritance - which is essentially what keeps the rich rich and the poor poor in this country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 265.

    Frankly, we need a serious look at how we spend ALL public money.

    The country earns enough to give our elderley great care. However, instead we spend it on public sector pen pushers, professional benefit claimants and low paid immigrants.

    Add to that a few wars, greedy bankers, EU / overseas aid and nothing is left for elderly care.

    We have the money, it's our priorities that are wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 264.

    We would never have let this happen at St. Mungo's.

  • rate this

    Comment number 263.

    @232 AllforAll - I'm not saying people will not need some form of assistance when looking after elderly relatives. But so many people don't even have the option of looking after their own because its all they can do to support themselves and their children. We have so much of what we earn picked from our pockets before we see a penny, leaving us to fight to get it back when we desperately need it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 262.

    First, let me start by I don't live in the UK therefore the changes will not impact me.
    As I read the comments and the various proposals to change the current system (and I agree its not sustainable as it is), I can not help but ask, why are you in such a rush to mimic the US healthcare system?

  • rate this

    Comment number 261.

    222. Chris mather
    You were all cared for ------- Pay it back,

    No. I never agreed to that bargain before I was born. I was never consulted. I have no contractual obligation.
    Note, I haven't said I won't, but if I do it will be out of love not obligation.

    Last word to Jane Austen
    Selfishness must always be forgiven, because there is no hope of a cure.

  • rate this

    Comment number 260.

    Another classic HYS:

    242. My child is disabled, the Tories don't care (Labour did though!)

    241 (a classic) It's Thatcher's fault (is it 1980?)

    239 Tories are siphoning cash south, to pay for care

    233 It's rich people's fault, mainly those paying 50% tax.

  • rate this

    Comment number 259.

    Southern Cross Britain's Largest private care provider collapsed due to greed and the self interest of the directors who profited massively and have never been held responsible for their activities this proves the private sector has no interest in long term care for a reasonable profit we must create revenue streams to provide for our elders futures not everyone has a home to sell.

  • rate this

    Comment number 258.

    What is needed is a radical re-think based on hospitalisation and care homes being the last option.
    The NHS would be cheaper and more effective if people were returned home for nursing care for this you would need GP,District Nurse and carer provision. Also suggest family in employment could be released for care duties and paid social benefits for the period of care.

  • rate this

    Comment number 257.

    Atlantic @189

    Imagine, universal income equality at @26K x 30m/60m = 13K tax-free

    Govt revenue gathered from taxes on spending

    No need (or 'interest') for long-term saving

    Stable aggregate demand & tax-take ensured

    Today's 3 million 'unemployed' working in care etc

    '5K benefits' only for those Disqualified from Equality

    Imagine, all incentivised: an economic 'miracle'

  • rate this

    Comment number 256.

    244Clive Hamilton - It amazes me that care costs so much money. Why is it so expensive to care for the elderly. I know qualified nurses are required but we all know many care home "staff" are on minimum wage. Is it just that profits are maximised or are there really genuine costs?


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