Report may back £50,000 cap on care costs for elderly

An eagerly-awaited report on social care may recommend a £50,000 cap on the amount anyone in England is expected to pay for care in their old age, its author has indicated.

Economist Andrew Dilnot declined to reveal the contents of his report, being published on Monday, but made clear that the cap proposal was under serious consideration.

And he ruled out recommending that the state should pay for all personal care, as happens in Scotland.

At present, elderly people in England with savings of over £23,250 have to pay for personal care such as support with washing, dressing and eating.

If they enter a residential care home the £23,250 threshold includes the value of their property, leading to many people being forced to sell their family homes to pay for care.

Mr Dilnot said that the £50,000 cap proposal should save people from being forced to sell their homes, and might allow the development of a market for financial products like insurance to pay for care.

He told the BBC there would be real anger if ministers failed to act.

"I think there is a real chance we will see action this time." said Mr Dilnot yesterday.

"They know that the public at large is extremely cross about a system that is confusing and seems to them unfair.

"They have set up this commission, they are all listening and I think they realise that if they don't act, the public at large and the organisations that represent them in this area will be really very angry. That's not a world the politicians would like to see."

Mr Dilnot refused to say what would be in Monday's report.

But he told the BBC: "One idea that has been talked about is a partnership - a new kind of way of splitting responsibility between the individual and the state - with the individual coping with the first part of the cost as they do at the moment.

"The idea is to put a cap on that, so if you do have very high care needs, the state comes in and pays once you get beyond a certain level."

A £50,000 cap would mean that no-one would pay more than that amount - even if their care bill reaches as much as £150,000, as some do.

Mr Dilnot said that some campaigners had called for the state to pick up the whole bill for personal care, as recommended by a Royal Commission in 1999.

But he said: "The reason we are not going to recommend it is that in countries that have gone down that route, when the public finances have got tight - as they do from time to time - eligibilities have been squeezed and the amounts given out have been reduced, so again we see the most vulnerable suffer."

Mr Dilnot said he hoped his proposals would provide a foundation for a new social care system which would command public confidence for as long as 50 years.

"If a cap were put in place, we could take away the fear that people could lose everything they have built up - and in particular, people seem reasonably anxious that they might lose all the value of their house," he said.

"They would still have to pay something, but much less than if they end up with high care needs at the moment."

Mr Dilnot said the current system was "a muddle" because there was no way of predicting what an individual's care bill may be and no way of insuring against the risk.

"People feel frightened about the prospect of needing care when they get old, frightened about the financial consequences and we need to find a way of taking that fear away," he said.

"All the other big risks we face - the risk of needing healthcare, the risk of our house burning down, the risk of a car crash - we are insured for, either by the state or private sector.

"Here there is no possibility. The state only supports you if you run out of all money apart from the last £23,000 and the private sector will not offer you insurance cover because there is too much uncertainty."