People feel cheated over care

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The public's faith in state-led funding for care in old age has been seriously undermined by its extensive means-testing, a study funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation showed yesterday.

The existence of the National Health Service and the obligation to pay tax and national insurance has led people to expect that care for older people would be free at the point of delivery, the study found.

But they feel their national-insurance payments have been misused - paid out to provide care now rather than invested to provide a fund for care in the future.

And the present means-testing of savings and capital - including taking houses into account - is strongly resented.

"People felt they had been given a false promise by the state that long- term care for older people would be provided free at the point of delivery," the study said.

And means-testing was seen as unfair for penalising the thrifty while the spendthrift were eligible for state aid.

To win the support of the public, the payments for any new system for long-term care should be dedicated to the purpose, properly invested and should provide a guaranteed level of care, the study, which was carried out by by Social and Community Planning Research, found.

The findings come as the Government is due to publish a consultation paper next week offering new public/private "partnership" deals over long- term care. Those who used part of their pensions, lump sums or insurance cover to provide themselves with long-term care will be allowed to keep an equivalent sum free of means-tests if they then need state-funded help.

But ministers have ruled out creating a new funded social- insurance scheme to pay for long-term care.

The findings - from qualitative discussion groups and not opinion polling - show the public are doubtful that the state can meet the demand for long-term care. There was some support for younger people, in particular, having to start planning to pay for their own care through insurance.

Others, however, opposed any form of private funding. There was greater willingness for individuals to be asked to pay towards the "hotel" costs in care homes, with the nursing and social care provided free - an option expected to be trailed by an inquiry into long-term care by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation which is due to complete work shortly.

And there are distinctly mixed attitudes to the family's responsibility to care for its elderly relatives, with considerable support for some form of payment scheme for those who do the caring.

The findings suggest that "society can no longer rely on the level of unpaid support currently provided," Rebecca Diba, the lead researcher on the project, said.