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Ministers warned over rising care costs

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: January 07, 2013

Ministers warned over rising care costs

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Ministers have been urged not to duck much-needed reform to paying for care in old age as the coalition Government prepares to set out its agenda before the next election.

Official figures show the Westcountry is likely to witness a boom in the over-65 population, leaving councils struggling to keep pace with the ageing population.

But the Conservative and Liberal Democrat government has so far avoided reforms proposed by an independent commission to ease the financial burden caused by the extra 244,500 people of retirement age living in Devon and Cornwall by 2033 – bringing the over-65s population to 643,600.

Today Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg will publish a mid-term review of the progress of the coalition, and its objectives for the next three years.

Ahead of that, former health minister and Westcountry MP Ben Bradshaw has urged ministers to press ahead with economist Andrew Dilnot's proposals on the funding of long-term care published in 2011. One of his key recommendations was that the state should cover costs exceeding £35,000 in any person's lifetime. The move was designed to prevent older people being forced to sell their homes.

The Commission on Funding of Care and Support also urged an increase in the means-tested assets threshold from £23,250 to £100,000 for those in residential care. But the Treasury has been reluctant to under-write the £1.7 billion price tag for care in nursing and residential homes.

Mr Bradshaw, Labour MP for Exeter, said: "David Cameron needs to overrule Treasury short-termism on social care. With an ageing population, the current system, particularly in the Westcountry, is unsustainable and deeply unfair for those who need care and their families. There is strong cross-party support to implement the Dilnot report and we must not lose this chance."

At present, council-funded help for the elderly is only offered to those with less than £23,250 in assets.

But with the price of even modest houses spiralling over the last decade – an issue that has particularly affected the Westcountry – the threshold has become redundant for most homeowners.

Some Government ministers are also keen to press ahead with legislation. Business minister Norman Lamb, who has been pushing for Government to tackle the issue, would not confirm whether it would be included.

However, he said: "What I think we need to have is a commitment to legislate. We also need clarity on the level of the cap so that everyone knows what we are talking about.

"Meanwhile, Dilnot argued not only for a cap, but also that the threshold for income support should go from £23,250 up to £100,000. That's another significant point that should be clarified."

On the question of how to pay for it, he said: "The way I argue it is that first it will get the Government to commit to dealing with issue, binding the Government's hands to do so.

"The truth is that the costs of Dilnot in the overall scheme of things, in terms of total government spending, are not that significant.

"You can get a hang-up on having to find a particular funding stream at this point, but the most important thing is to get the government committed to legislation. Then in a phase two you can say, 'Okay, this is the cost; let's see how we can work it out."

The mid-term review will set out priorities for the second half of the Parliament, ministers have said, and is the first major update of the Government agenda since the coalition agreement was signed bringing the two parties together in 2010. The next election is set for 2015.

Mr Clegg told MPs last year he had met Mr Cameron to discuss proposed new policies, which he promised would "break new ground".

Labour said the country needed a "change of direction" not "another PR exercise".

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