Decision delay on elderly care funding
Saturday 07 July 2012
Decisions on how to fund long-term care for the elderly will not be taken for up to two years, the Government admitted, amid Labour accusations that it had abandoned cross-party talks.
Ministers will next week publish a progress report which backs the idea of imposing a cap on the total amount an individual should pay for care costs.
But a source conceded that there was "not any money available at the moment" and that no firm decisions on how to proceed would be taken until a spending review in 2013 or 2014.
That will probably rule out any change until after the next general election, due in 2015, which will anger campaigners who warn that it is one of the most pressing issues facing the country.
One of the most controversial factors is the rising number of pensioners forced to sell their homes to pay for care in a system which is itself desperately short of funding.
A £35,000 cap and a big rise in the means-tested asset threshold to £100,000 paid for by extra taxes on the elderly were recommended last year by the review chaired by economist Andrew Dilnot.
"At the next spending review we will look at how we can fund it," the source said. "If we decide to do reform it will be on the Dilnot model."
The progress report will be published next week alongside legislative proposals to review other parts of the state help for the elderly, including extra rights for carers and families.
Its scheduled appearance, without input from the Opposition, sparked a political row.
"Labour will have no input into the progress report and it will not reflect our judgment about what should be in it. This is a missed opportunity and we are deeply disappointed," a senior source said.
"By kicking the issue into the long grass, the Government are ignoring the current care crisis and the urgency of reforming our care system."
The source said there had only been three face-to-face meetings of the formal talks and none since February and that the Opposition was denied crucial information.
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: "It would be a matter of regret for us if the Labour Party will not continue with talks to find consensus on long-term funding ofcare.
"I have made clear that while we will make a progress report shortly on this, we want to continue such talks not only between parties but with a broad range of stakeholders.".
Simon Gillespie, who chairs the Care & Support Alliance, welcomed the commitment to a cap on costs in England - expected to be made on Wednesday - but said there remained "some big issues" of under-funding to resolve.
The Alliance, a consortium of more than 50 organisations representing older and disabled people, wrote to party leaders in May raising concerns that the talks appeared to have stalled.
"If it is genuinely the case that those talks have stalled then that will be very, very disappointing," Mr Gillespie told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
"It is not up to me to assign blame. The politicians will obviously have that debate among themselves. All I can say is that is remarkable disappointing if it is the case that we have not been able to get a political consensus to this long-term and widespread issue.
"We hope that if a White Paper is published on Wednesday then it will come up with some sensible approach to that, and all the indications are it will.
"But it has got to be matched up with something that sorts out the funding both in the short term and the much longer term as well."
One in every 10 people would in future require care costing £100,000 or more, he said, meaning a way had to be found to share that cost.
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said he was pleased with the "small measure of progress" of a commitment to a cap but said it was meaningless without agreement on how to fund it.
Labour would challenge the Government publicly over its plans but was prepared to return to the table if there was a "meaningful two-way process", he told Today.
"This decision to go down this separate route and do their own report reflects a decision to put the reform of the funding of social care on a slower timetable," he said.
"A cap is meaningless if there is no plan to deliver it. How is it going to be paid for? What is the timetable to put it in place?
He added: "You can only get progress by suspending politics as usual. If the Government wants to re-open a meaningful two-way process then I will immediately go back into that.
"But just facing a document we haven't seen, I can't just say we will support whatever is said. I have got to challenge the Government on behalf of older people. That's my job."
The present system was "as cruel and unfair as the American healthcare system where people have to pay with everything they've got because of their vulnerability in later life", he said.
"We have between us got to end that."
Mr Lansley, who said he had invited Mr Burnham to a meeting on Tuesday to discuss the contents, accepted his shadow's concerns over the need for detail.
"You can't be confident about the implementation of a cap on the costs that people have to pay unless you are also clear about how you meet the costs," he said.
Securing agreement with the Treasury on that key element at a time of spending cuts across the public services is the principle sticking point in the process.
"We need to establish the consensus we were talking about not only that the principles are right but how they are to be implemented and how they are going to be paid for."
Mr Lansley - who the programme indicated had declined to debate directly with his shadow on air - said: "I hope Andy will come and talk to me before I make a statement to parliament because I think when he looks at what we are publishing he will recognise that it is simply an accurate reflection of the progress we have made and a basis for further talks in the future.
"When we commenced our discussions, I think we were very clear that it would, of necessity, require legislation in this parliament.
"As you know, in the Queen's Speech we set out our intention to introduce a draft care and support bill in this parliamentary session and I hope we will, indeed, do that.
Michelle Mitchell, charity director general of Age UK said: "If the Government accepts the Dilnot recommendations in principle that is definitely a step forward and welcome, but with care in crisis now it is not nearly enough.
"The Government must set out the process by which it will make the all important decisions about funding social care, including timescales and milestones. That is the very least older people and their families will be looking for next week."
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