Health

Cross party talks on social care reform to begin this week

  • 16 January 2012
  • From the section Health
Elderly person
Ministers are looking to publish plans for social care reform in the spring

Cross-party talks about overhauling care and support for the elderly and disabled in England will begin this week with campaigners urging politicians to consider major change.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley and his Lib Dem care services minister Paul Burstow will sit down with two members of the Labour health team on Tuesday.

Similar talks broke down acrimoniously before the 2010 election.

The charity Age UK said the opportunity could not be lost again.

To coincide with the start of the talks, it released polling suggesting the majority of the public wanted to see the social care system changed.

The survey of more than 1,700 adults, which was carried out by YouGov, showed that 81% believed the government should do more to support the care needs of the elderly.

Three-quarters said they wanted to see a cap on the costs individuals could end up paying.

Cost cap

Social care is means-tested, which means anyone with assets of over £23,250 has to pay for the entire cost of their care.

The system forces thousands of people to sell their homes each year when they go into residential care.

An independent review - carried out by the economist Andrew Dilnot - recommended last summer that costs be capped at £35,000.

The proposals received widespread support from campaigners and councils, which say they are increasingly struggling to meet demand.

Michelle Mitchell, charity director at Age UK, said the polling showed there was no reason for politicians to back away from reform.

She said the survey provided a "strong message" that there was an appetite for change.

"We want this government to be the one that shows the vision and drive to sort out the care system once and for all."

Many believe if that is too happen there needs to be cross-party consensus on reform - and that is why the talks starting on Tuesday are being seen as so important.

Similar discussions were held in the early part of 2010, but they broke down after the Tories accused Labour ministers of wanting to introduce a "death tax" by using deceased people's estates to fund the system.

The health secretary at the time was Andy Burnham, who is now shadow health secretary and will be taking part in the latest talks along with Liz Kendall, a member of the Labour health team.

It means there is a great deal of sensitivity about the discussions, with neither side prepared to make any public statements about them - although the government has said it will publish plans in the spring.

David Rogers, of the Local Government Association, said: "Local government is pretty united behind the Dilnot proposals.

"Change is needed and we need national politicians to reach a consensus because this is about long-term change - it is not just about the length of this parliament."

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