Elderly care economist suggests ministers lack ‘guts’

Ministers lack the courage to implement desperately-needed reform of the care system for elderly people, the economist brought in to review the problem has suggested.

Andrew Dilnot urged leading figures in the industry to be “less polite” and lobby politicians to bring about change.

He called the existing regime for social care funding “stupid and crazy” and claimed it “encourages people to cheat”.

More than four months after the publication of his Government-commissioned report, Mr Dilnot told a conference: “We have a model that works for an amount of money that is plausible – we just have to have the guts to do it.

“No politician, local or national, wants to talk about this as the current funding structure stinks – it is crazy.”

His forthright language at the meeting organised by the English Community Care Association on Wednesday suggests growing concern that ministers are again attempting to kick the problem of social care funding into the long grass.

More and more people need help washing and cooking at home, or have to move into residential care, as the population ages and dementia rates rise.

But because of the growing cost to public services, successive governments have shied away from reform and so the situation remains whereby anyone with more than £23,250 in assets has to pay for their own care, often forcing them to sell their houses.

After the election, marked by a bitter row about Labour’s plans for a “death tax”, the Coalition asked Mr Dilnot to lead a commission to look at fairer ways of funding social care.

His report, published in July, proposed raising the means-testing level to £100,000 and imposing a cap so that the state would step in if someone’s lifetime costs were more than £35,000. This in turn would encourage private insurers to offer cover, safe in the knowledge that they would not face ruinous payouts.

But ministers raised concerns that the proposals would cost taxpayers an extra £2billion a year and announced that a White Paper on care reform will not now be published until April.

Mr Dilnot said, in comments reported by the magazine Health Investor: “It is not a question of whether or not we can afford it, it is whether we want to spend money on looking after ourselves, and what role the state should play in this.

“Surely this is important enough for us to have the courage to implement it?”

Mr Dilnot described the current means test as “the worst I’ve seen in 30 years – it is stupid and crazy to have this cliff of £23,000, and it encourages people to cheat the system”.

He told the audience: “We need to be less polite, and a little bit more cross. Write to your MP, write to your minister, because we need to be taken seriously on this.”

Tonight a member of the 1999 Royal Commission on care of the elderly, the Labour peer Lord Lipsey, will say that cross-party consensus was needed for progress to be made.

He will say policies are made to coincide with the five-year electoral cycle, but that people need to be able to plan for the future.

Lord Lipsey is due to say in a speech at the University of East Anglia that some of the “lowest moments” in the debate on elderly care were down to politics.

He will describe Gordon Brown’s doomed “bribe” to provide free personal care to elderly people living at home as “amongst the most irresponsible attempts to buy votes of my long political lifetime”.

A Department of Health spokesman said: “We are committed to reforming the social care system. The Commission has begun to expose the complexities, difficulties and the trade-offs that will be required.

“However, the commission did not cover other fundamental issues like how to improve quality, the integration of care and simplifying our care laws to make it easier for people to get the help they need.

“That is why we are considering these issues before we set out our plans for a major reform of social care in a White Paper and progress report on funding in spring 2012. Experts in the field have welcomed this approach.”