MPs ‘must unite’ to reform elderly care

Frail elderly people will be left to suffer unless David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband can put aside their political differences to agree urgent reforms to the care system, an alliance of charities, think tanks and councils warns today.

In an open letter to the three party leaders and seen by The Daily Telegraph, the groups say time has run out for political wrangling over how to look after the millions of elderly and disabled people who need support. With the system at “breaking point”, MPs of all parties must now reach a “consensus” or condemn generations of pensioners to a life of poverty, misery and pain, they warn.

The letter was signed by an alliance of organisations spanning the private and state sectors. Signatories included the leaders of Bupa Care Services, the Local Government Association, Age UK, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, as well as social workers’ and carers’ representatives.

The care bill for elderly and disabled adults in England will reach an estimated £24 billion a year by 2026. A Continued on government commission, chaired by Andrew Dilnot, the economist and broadcaster, is drawing up plans for the future funding of the social care system in England and will make recommendations to ministers in July.

But previous attempts at reform, including a Royal Commission in Tony Blair’s first term as Prime Minister and proposals from Gordon Brown before the last election, faltered due to political divisions. Today’s letter warns that the same fate must not befall Mr Dilnot’s plan.

“For over a decade, governments of all colours have struggled to agree an answer. But delay is no longer an option,” the letter says. “Increased pressure on public finances is pushing an already over-burdened system to breaking point. Without integration between health and social care services, this picture could worsen. It is frail, older people who will suffer unless the issue is resolved.”

Campaigners have warned that hundreds of thousands of older and disabled adults are being denied state support, such as meals on wheels and home help services, as councils cut funding.

Baroness Sally Greengross, a cross-bench peer and the chief executive of the International Longevity Centre UK think tank, said reform was urgently needed.

“This is a crisis and we have got to get it right,” she said. “We have got to find a system all three parties can accept.” The prospects for cross-party agreement may be enhanced by the fact that Mr Dilnot’s commission includes Lord Warner, a former Labour health minister, while the current minister for social care is Paul Burstow, a Liberal Democrat, she added.

Mr Dilnot believes the insurance industry should develop more schemes to cover nursing home fees, which can run to more than £50,000 a year. An estimated 20,000 people are forced to sell their homes each year to pay for care.

“This overburdened system is at breaking point,” said Michelle Mitchell, the charity director at Age UK. “We are looking forward to working with all political parties to ensure the recommendations made by Andrew Dilnot are acted upon.”

David Rogers, from the Local Government Association, added: “Anyone who works in adult social care knows the current system is not fit for the 21st century. The Government must step up and start working towards a reformed system.”