New council warning over costs of care for the elderly
It's a political and financial worry for all of us; just how do we pay for our loved ones who need residential care?
The reality for many is having to sell their homes to pay the bills for long-term care. It's one of the pressing social policy issues of the 21st Century.
The government asked the economist Andrew Dilnot to recommend a new approach to tackle soaring Treasury costs.
Now our council leaders are having to consider the consequences.
"There has to be change because the present arrangements just aren't financial sustainable," said Cllr David Sprason, the Tory politician responsible for adult social care in Leicestershire.
At present, council funded care home places are only available for the elderly or those with disabilities with financial assets under £23,250.
At that level, many who've bought their own home end up having to sell it to pay the council's social care costs. Up to 20,000 people are forced into that position each year.
Dilnot recommended increasing that asset threshold to £100,000, with the individual picking up initial care costs up to £35,000.
Local government is already being squeezed by 30% budget cuts.
Council leaders in the East Midlands believe there's now a sense of urgency to reform.
"Residential social care is fast taking up to 45% of all local government spending and for some councils it can represent 70% of their budget," added Cllr Sprason.
"We will have failed if we don't act on Dilnot's recommendations."
At present, social care costs local government £14.5 billion a year. According to Dilnot, that figure is due to almost double to £26.4 billion by 2025.
Those cost pressures will intensify with an ageing population. Dilnot's reforms alone would add £1.8 billion to the Treasury's annual social care bill.
I felt the level of concern at a meeting of East Midlands Councils, the new body that speaks up for local government in the region. Its political leadership had gathered to discuss the impact of social care costs.
East Midlands Councils is now writing to the Health Care Minister, Paul Burstow, a Liberal Democrat, pressing him to act on the Dilnot findings.
"One of the other problems for us are the changes to the NHS," said Cllr Martin Hill, the leader of Lincolnshire County Council.
"Joint commissioning with the NHS is proving more difficult because of their reforms. And as soon as we find savings from our budgets, we have more duties and responsibilities coming down the line from government," he added.
Also voicing concerns is a senior East Midlands Liberal Democrat, Cllr John Boyce, the leader of Wigston and Oadby, the suburban district just south of Leicester.
He's worried because Wilnot also recommends people taking out insurance policies to cover their later residential care costs.
"We hear so much about the personalisation of care. But matching the market with public provision could lead to all manner of problems," he told councillors.
East Midlands Councils is the latest group to lobby the government to reveal its hand on this issue.
Last month, 60 organisations wrote a joint letter to the Daily Telegraph saying reform of the care system must be a top priority.
It warned that the elderly were being 'robbed of their dignity' by failing social care services.
As for the government, it's planning to publish its own proposals in the Spring. It's seeking cross party consensus.
That's a sign of uncomfortable policy and financial decisions that - as a society - we may have to accept.