Social Care Funding Issue ‘Potentially As Big As Pensions Crisis’

Elderly people deserve a radical rethink of the way their care is paid for, the Government admits today amid dire warnings from experts that the system is failing. Ivan Lewis, the minister responsible for care services, appears to acknowledge in a radio interview that the funding issue is potentially as big as the pensions crisis.

{mosimage}His comments come as a YouGov poll says three out of four people say funding should be based on need, not income.

Asked if he accepted that social care funding was one of the great unresolved issues of our time, Mr Lewis tells You and Yours on Radio 4 today:

“It’s absolutely crucial. People are living longer and developing conditions that we’ve never known before, like Alzheimer’s. Disabled people now have, and rightly want, full and longer lives.

“And if you add to that rising public expectations in terms of what they expect from social care services, it’s absolutely right that the Treasury and the Government have acknowledged that social care is one of the great challenges facing our society and the Government. We need a new consensus for a new settlement that’s fair and sustainable. We need to redefine the relationship between the state, the family and the citizen.”

The number of people over 65 using council care services is well over one million and will more than double over the next 40 years. Anyone with assets over £21,000, including property, has to pay for their own social care whether they live in a nursing home, their own home or warden-controlled sheltered housing. If someone is under that threshold, then the state pays for their care.

Almost everyone in the UK will either need care or become a carer, according to the King’s Fund, a health think-tank, and other bodies including Age Concern and Help the Aged. The situation will get worse as life expectancy increases.

But most councils in England provide care only to people assessed as in “critical” or “substantial” need. Those with moderate or low needs get nothing. “Low need” is defined as needing help with two tasks per day.

The YouGov survey of 2,306 adults found that while 58 per cent of respondents think the state should have the most responsibility to assist with the cost of care, almost half expected to have to rely on their own savings. More than a third expected to rely on the NHS for financial support, while 17 per cent would turn to their children.

Mervyn Kohler, the head of public affairs at Help the Aged, said: “The case for shaking up care services is incontrovertible but where there is controversy is how to pay for it. The public expects to fund a reasonable amount from their personal assets, but with the state funding a greater share.”

Niall Dickson, the chief executive of the King’s Fund, said: “The long-term care system is complex, unfair and unsustainable. It not only penalises people with moderate savings, but it also discourages hundreds of thousands from receiving the support they need.”

Figures show that while people are living longer, they are spending more time in poor health. On average a woman spends more than 11 years of her old age in poor health – for men it is more than eight years. But only £13 billion is spent on social care in the UK. That compares with £26 billion on defence and £59 billion on education.

The Commission for Social Care Inspection, which oversees care services, warned months ago that local authorities were wrongly denying support to all but the most needy. Many elderly people must sell their homes to pay care-home fees, or ask their families to pick up the bill.

Its report was published days after Mike Pearce, a retired detective, won more than £50,000 in compensation for his 84-year-old mother, after she had to sell her home to pay for care fees. A court ruled that her nursing needs meant that she should always have qualified for full state support.

Long-term care experts warned that many people were unaware they were missing out, as local authorities and primary care trusts did everything they could to save money. In some cases, families were being cheated out of six-figure sums.