Ministers Look At Social Care Insurance As Costs Rise

People may have to pay into a compulsory social insurance scheme to contribute towards the costs of care in old age under proposals floated by the government yesterday.

The health secretary, Alan Johnson, said he would produce a green paper early next year on dealing with the long-term problem of providing adequate non-medical care for a growing number of vulnerable older people.

Over the next 20 years the number of people over 85 in England will double and the number over 100 will quadruple. Nearly 2 million more people will need social care support including help with dressing, washing, shopping and eating.

Johnson said he wanted a national debate on how much the government, individuals and families should pay towards meeting the social care bill, which is expected to rise from £12.7bn last year to £24.1bn in 2026 and £40.9bn in 2041.

He said people wanted to be confident that they would get adequate support without having to sell the house for which they had “scrimped and saved” throughout a working life. But the system of free personal care that was introduced in Scotland had been found to be unaffordable.

When pressed on what the solution might be, Johnson said: “You are looking at some kind of insurance, either paid for by the state or personally.”

Gordon Brown said: “We can – and must – look to give people the opportunity and the support to save for their old age in a way which insures them and protects their houses and their inheritance.”

He added: “I know there are companies as well as organisations which have been looking at the way insurance can play a bigger part in the future. It comes back to [the question of] how do we shape the relationship between the family, the individual themselves and the government in the years to come: whether that is through the insurance system, or through the way the government itself would make available funds through the ordinary taxation system.” Ministers denied yesterday that they had a preferred option for reform, but officials were understood to be interested in the social insurance scheme floated last month by the NHS Confederation. It said people should be obliged to insure themselves against the risks of contracting dementia and other debilitating conditions, with the state supporting those who could not afford the premiums.

The government is also interested in proposals from Sir Derek Wanless, the former group chief executive of NatWest and architect of Brown’s decision in 2002 to double spending on the NHS. In a report for the King’s Fund, an independent health research institute, Wanless said the state should provide a basic minimum service, leaving individuals free to pay for extras, helped by 50% top-up grants from the Treasury. Niall Dickson, chief executive of the King’s Fund, said: “All main political parties agree the current system is complex, unfair and unsustainable – all of them know we need to look at radical solutions which will provide better care, promote independence and not penalise those who save.”