Council chiefs add to pressure on ministers for elderly care reform

Elderly people should have to pay no more than £50,000 for care in old age, council chiefs say today as they add to the pressure on ministers to reform the system.

In a letter to The Daily Telegraph, social services directors representing 41 local authorities warn that the “dignity” of older people will be put at risk unless the “unfair” regime is changed.

They admit that social care is expensive and costs are rising as people live longer, but say this should be a “spur to take action” rather than a reason to hesitate, as the funding needs are only increasing.

The three leaders of regional adult social services, representing the south, east and midlands of England, say that the Government should implement “as soon as possible” the recommendations of last year’s commission led by the economist Andrew Dilnot.

They suggest a lifetime cap on individual costs of no more than £50,000 – higher than the original proposal of £35,000 but lower than the £60,000 recently suggested by a Department of Health working group.

Led by Graham Gibbens, Cabinet member for adult social care at Kent County Council, they write: “The dignity of older people and of adults who need social care should not be at risk because a solution has not been put into place.

“Indeed, everyone, from the care sector to carers and from local government to older people, needs a solution to be agreed and put into practice as soon as possible.

“Andrew Dilnot’s Commission has found a workable solution that balances financial concerns with respect for older and vulnerable people. We recognise that the extra cost associated with the Commission’s recommendations prompts questions, and we understand that these are questions for government ministers to consider. On this basis, we can only advise that any limit on costs should be as low as possible to stay affordable, and should not be above about £50,000.

“We believe public investment is necessary to protect ‘our nation’s humanity’ and the dignity of older people in Britain.”

Their intervention is the latest in a series to put pressure on ministers ahead of a White Paper on social care and a “progress report” on funding options due to be published in April.

Successive administrations have shied away from reforming care of the elderly, although spending on healthcare has tripled in recent years, leading to an unfair and underfunded system as demand has risen.

Councils have restricted eligibility for residential care and support in the home to those with the most severe needs, as well as increasing charges, while anyone with more than £23,250 in assets receive no state help at all. Scandals of poor treatment have been uncovered in nursing homes and staffing agencies while the biggest operator of private accommodation went bust last year.

The Dilnot commission proposed placing a cap of about £35,000 on the lifetime costs that any individual would have to pay for care, in the expectation that this would encourage more people to take out insurance. The means-test threshold would also rise to £100,000, so that many pensioners would be spared having to raid their savings or sell family homes.

Ministers balked at the estimated £1.7bn cost of implementing the reforms at a time of austerity, but campaigners have kept up the pressure.

An unprecedented alliance of 60 advisers, experts and charities warned earlier this month that some 800,000 vulnerable people are being denied the basic support they need, while the Archbishop of York has declared that “our nation’s humanity is at stake” over the issue.

Politicians are taking part in rare cross-party talks to find a solution while Mr Dilnot himself declared this week that reform is “hugely overdue”.

The Health Select Committee has also been taking evidence on social care funding, and this week repeatedly asked Paul Burstow, the care services minister, if he agreed that the system is in crisis and faces a £6.5billion funding gap this year.

He insisted there need not be a gap, as central government had given councils enough money to maintain services, and so implied it was their fault if standards were slipping.