Gordon Brown is to expand state help for people who need social care and the six million carers who look after elderly or disabled relatives.
Close allies say he intends to make social care a big theme of his premiership. A government review now under way is expected to result in tens of thousands of families who now miss out on state support qualifying for the first time.
Although state aid will still be means-tested, existing rules which prevent people receiving state help if they have more than £20,000 in savings are likely to be relaxed.
Middle-class families stand to benefit. More than £1bn a year is already spent in England providing publicly funded social care in the community or in care homes. There is a growing recognition among ministers that it will have to be increased. There will also be more support for carers who enable relatives to live in a family home rather than go into a care home.
Carers UK, which represents them, calculates that they contribute £87bn a year to society but points out that a carer's allowance is worth just £48 a week.
A £25m-a-year expansion of respite care, to give family members a temporary break from looking after relatives, is already planned for this autumn but only in emergencies. Ministers will consider providing regular help. Three in five people will become carers during their lives and the number is growing by two million each year.
Ministers say social care is becoming a big political issue and offers a way for Labour to reconnect with voters across the country, by showing that it understands the struggles many people face in their lives. The Prime Minister, who met carers in Leeds earlier this month, is taking a close interest in the issue and a Green Paper will be published later this year.
One option is for the state to guarantee a certain level of care and then match whatever an individual can contribute. The first stage in the Government's strategy emerged yesterday when it ordered a review of the "postcode lottery" of social care provided by local authorities. The move followed a damning report by the Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI) which revealed huge inconsistencies in how councils decide who gets help and how much they get.
Seven out of 10 authorities restrict their services to people whose needs are defined as "substantial" or "critical". In some cases, people living in the same area receive widely varying levels of help.
As a result, the watchdog said that 281,000 people in need of help received none while another 450,000 got less than they needed.
Ivan Lewis, the care services minister, has asked the CSCI to review the eligibility criteria used by councils. He said: "I want to see an end to the 'no help here' culture, which is now creeping into parts of the care system.
"There will always be a need for a national social care framework, but the existing system is leaving too many families on their own. It runs the risk of damaging our commitment to support older and disabled people to live independently."
But John Ransford, the deputy head of the Local Government Association, said that councils wanted to provide care, but did not have enough money.
"We have been saying that in a very tight financial settlement we have to use those resources as effectively as possible, if you want more services, then we need more resources," he said.Reuse content