Plan for levy for social care for the elderly overdue

Posted in: 30th March 2010 by erica

A compulsory levy would be introduced to create a universal system of social care for adults in England, under plans to be unveiled by ministers. They will call for a new commission to look at when and how the fee should be applied, and how much it should be. It is widely agreed the current means-tested system needs reform because of the ageing population. A compulsory charge is opposed by the Conservatives, who called one proposal for a levy on estates a death tax. The subject is now likely to become a key issue during the election campaign. Demands for care have been rising as people live longer, and costs have been ballooning. Some councils have already started to limit access to support to those with the most severe needs. The result is that many elderly people living at home have been left to fend for themselves or rely on the help of family and friends for assistance with washing, eating and dressing. Thousands of people have also been forced to sell family homes to pay for residential care. The government put forward three funding options for a new system last summer. The options all involved the state providing a basic level of funding, which could be topped up by personal contributions, an insurance scheme or a compulsory fee. The government consulted widely on the proposals, with many charities and social care chiefs backing a compulsory charge as the best way to raise the money needed to sustain the system. But cross-party talks in recent months have failed to reach a consensus. The Conservatives are adamant people should not be compelled to pay, and instead back a voluntary insurance scheme. One of the suggestions – a compulsory charge, perhaps as much as £20,000, which could be taken from a person’s estate after death – was dubbed a “death tax” by the Tories. Alistair Darling appeared to reject the “death tax” during the chancellors debate on Channel 4 on Monday night. However, Health Secretary Andy Burnham will say in Parliament on Tuesday that he still favours a compulsory levy of some sort as he unveils a white paper on the issue. He will suggest an independent group of experts be appointed to look at exactly how such a fee could be applied. He hailed the policy as “a momentous decision” that would provide a universal system of care for the first time. As an interim measure, the government has already said it would provide free care to people in their own homes with the most severe needs. People who have been in care homes for more than two years will get their care for free. This will happen from 2014, Mr Burnham is set to say later. The government expects that a new system would take more than the lifetime of the next parliament – perhaps 2016 – to be introduced fully. Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley accused ministers of still wanting a death tax but just delaying the decision for a few years. He said charging everyone for social care was “unfair on the people who meet their caring responsibilities” – families caring for elderly relatives at home. Councillor David Rogers, of the Local Government Association, said: “We need a new system and that will inevitably be a combination of tax revenue and individual contributions in some form. “The next government must sort this out.” Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrats’ health spokesman, said the parties needed to work together to agree the future of social care funding. “We should sit down together after the election, accepting that we need to raise more money and arguing the case for a partnership between the state and the individual. “Seeking consensus is the right approach but that will only work if the cross-party commission is free to consider all ways of funding social care, not just Labour’s preferred policy. The commission should report within a year so changes can be implemented straight away,” he said.