Britain sleepwalking into care crisis, Ros Altmann warns

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image captionLady Altmann was pensions minister in David Cameron's government

Britain is in danger of "sleepwalking into a social care crisis", a former pensions minister has warned.

Ros Altmann called on the government to use tax breaks to help people save for care in later life, as she said the cost of funding provision was pushing the NHS in England to breaking point.

She said she warned other ministers of looming problems last year.

The Department of Health said it was significantly raising the funds local authorities have access to for care.

Lady Altmann, who was pensions minister under David Cameron, said the chancellor should use Wednesday's Autumn Statement to offer incentives to help families "recognise the need" to prepare for care costs.

'Eldercare vouchers'

media captionRos Altmann outlines to Radio 4's Today the issues facing the social care system.

"This should have been done years ago, but successive governments have failed to offer any help," she said.

"Government spends billions on private pensions tax breaks, and there is a state pension to provide a base level of support, but there are no incentives to set money aside for care costs."

Find out the cost of care in your area

Cuts in social care funding in England have been blamed for a sharp increase in the number of patients stuck in hospital beds because care cannot be arranged elsewhere.

Lady Altmann, who left her government post in Theresa May's reshuffle in July, said the NHS cannot carry on picking up the pieces of a "broken care system".

"Care has been left to cash-strapped councils keep who keep cutting provision," she said.

She suggests a new ISA to help people save for care could be introduced and firms could offer "eldercare vouchers" along the lines of the childcare voucher scheme, which attracts tax relief.

NHS v social care

NHS: Budget controlled by NHS England and pays for hospitals, GPs, district nursing and mental health care. Services are provided free at the point of need.

Care: Budget controlled by councils and pays for care home and nursing home places as well as support in the home for tasks such as washing and dressing. Services are means-tested so only the poorest get help towards their costs.

Lady Altmann told the BBC she had sent a memo around Whitehall when she was appointed after the May 2015 general election, warning that the issue of care costs could cause significant social and economic distress.

The Department of Health said local authorities in England had been given powers to raise extra money for social care through higher council taxes, and other funding would be available from next April.

A spokesman said: "This government is committed to making sure older people throughout the country get affordable and dignified care.

"We are significantly increasing the amount of money local authorities have access to for social care, by up to £3.5bn by 2020.

"Our care Act also introduced the biggest reforms to social care in over 65 years to make support more consistent across the country."

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