Elderly care reforms may have to wait until 2025

Reforms to long-term care for the elderly may not take effect for another 15 years, despite warnings that the system is already in crisis.

Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, yesterday refused to rule out a new tax on pensioners to pay for the soaring costs of old age and acknowledged that more funding was needed.

His advisers admitted that key parts of the planned reformed system of care for elderly and disabled adults may not come into effect before 2025.

Campaigners said that the social care system was already “broken” and urged ministers to introduce reforms urgently, rather than kick them “into the long grass”.

An estimated 20,000 people a year are forced to sell their homes to pay fees for nursing and residential care, which can reach hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Spending cuts have driven some care home companies out of business, while inspectors have warned that elderly people are being neglected and even abused by poorly trained helpers in their own homes.

Earlier this year, a government commission led by Andrew Dilnot, an economist, recommended a series of reforms to protect pensioners from having to sell their homes to pay for care.

Under his plans, individuals would be expected to take out private insurance to cover the first £35,000 of any nursing or care home costs they might incur in old age. Costs would be capped and care bills over the £35,000 limit would be paid by the state under the plan.

However, the Treasury is believed to be reluctant to agree to the extra £1.7  billion a year that the scheme would require. A White Paper is due to be published setting out the reforms next April and ministers have been consulting with experts on how the new system should be designed.

Jeremy Hughes, the chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, who has been leading a Department of Health consultation on the plans, said he thought 2025 would be “a realistic time frame” for introducing the insurance system to pay for care.

Future Treasury spending reviews, election politics, and the time required for the insurance market to “start taking shape” were responsible for the wait, he suggested. However, Mr Hughes urged ministers to agree legislation as soon as possible to enable work to begin.

Mr Lansley acknowledged that more money would be needed from the Treasury and confirmed that ministers would be considering raising taxes to pay for the reforms. “Do we think all of this is achievable with the current level of resources? Clearly not,” Mr Lansley said. “The point of Dilnot was that additional resources need to be brought into play but there are a range of ways in which he suggested that might happen.”

One proposal from Mr Dilnot was for pensioners to contribute more through their taxes, as they would be the group who would benefit most from the reforms. Asked whether such a tax was being considered, Mr Lansley said the government was “looking at a whole range of options”. He acknowledged that it could take “10 to 20 years” before some of the reforms are felt.

Ros Altmann, the director general of Saga, said waiting until 2025 would be “outrageous”. Michelle Mitchell, of Age UK, said: “Care is in crisis now and needs urgent reform today.”