Failure to reform elderly care ‘will be catastrophic’

The system of care for the elderly will face “catastrophic” breakdown if politicians are not prepared to work together to back painful long-term reform, experts warn today.

Leading charities and experts have written to The Daily Telegraph warning the current care system is “reaching crisis point” and must be radically overhauled, even it means making people pay more.

A panel of experts, led by the economist Andrew Dilnot, will recommend reforms to the funding of care and support for elderly and disabled adults in a report to ministers next month.

The review is expected to recommend that better-off people should pay at least £35,000 towards the costs of care, raising the money by taking out private insurance earlier in life.

Mr Dilnot has also suggested pensioners should be prepared to raid their pensions, down-size or even sell their homes and rent to pay for long-term care in old age.

Since the recommendations of the Commission on Funding of Care and Support are expected to be painful and controversial, experts and charities fear that politicians will come under pressure to avoid implementing them in full.

The signatories to today’s letter, who include the Association of British Insurers, Age UK, the Alzheimer’s Society and the National Care Forum, say that watering down Mr Dilnot’s plans would be disastrous.

“It would be catastrophic if the forthcoming report from the Dilnot Commission resulted in no action at all,” they write.

“We are reaching crisis point. We know there is no perfect solution. Care will always cost money and someone has to pay for it.”

The question of care funding has been the subject of bitter political rows in the past. At last year’s general election, the Conservatives depicted Labour’s plans for reform as a “death tax” on the estates of the elderly.

Hoping to avoid such rows this year, the letter urges politicians from all sides to “put aside party divisions” and “work together to prepare for the consequences of living longer”.

Insiders say the approach of the Dilnot recommendations has also strained relations between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. Some Lib Dem ministers suspect the Tories will try to delay reforms for fear of a political backlash.

Underlining the case for change, new figures will today show that councils are cutting their spending on care for the elderly by almost 10 per cent, leading to warnings that more old people will be left to fend for themselves.

The figures were compiled by Age UK after Freedom of Information Act requests to councils about their budgets for adult social care.

Age UK said: “We are fearful that even more vulnerable older people will be left to struggle alone and in some cases lives will be put at risk. We anticipate these cuts will condemn many more older people to a miserable existence behind closed doors, struggling to keep safe and well.”