29 Jun 2011

All but the poorest’ will get care home bill in old age

Health Minister Paul Burstow says there are no easy answers to the funding of social care for the elderly.

Care home

“All but the poorest” will have to pay for their own care when they reach old age, a Government minister has warned.

Health Minister Paul Burstow signalled that he expects a backlash when plans for reform of England’s social care system are unveiled next week.

The Liberal Democrat told the King’s Fund health think-tank that there was a “fantasy” that pensioners receive care in later life for free, whereas many face bills for tens of thousands.

Mr Burstow said that that the report of a commission led by economist Andrew Dilnot would deliver “hard truths”, but he stressed that it would not be the “last word” on social care and the Coalition would take its time to come up with final policy proposals.

He said social care’s “nasty little secret” was that one in four people faced a bill of more than £50,000 in old age, and one in ten would have to pay more than £100,000.

There is no magic solution that can shield people from catastrophic costs, instantly reward thrift and make a rotten system fair. Paul Burstow

Mr Burstow said: “Reform comes with a price tag. There is no magic solution that can shield people from catastrophic costs, instantly reward thrift and make a rotten system fair.

“That is why when Andrew spells out his plans the answer may not be easy.

“Without personal contact, our social care system remains out of sight and out of mind. That’s why most people think social care is free. It is not. Never has been, and never will be.

“I agree with those who say the boat has sailed on a wholly tax-funded social care.

“So when Andrew tells us he has an answer to social care funding – that all but the poorest will have to pay – the reaction could be lukewarm, at best.

“There are, after all, no cheers for the bearer of hard truths.”

The minister signalled that a White Paper would not be drafted until “late this year or early next”.

He added: “If funding reform is to be secured during this Parliament it will require give and take. It demands recognition of the times we are in, and the fact that the deficit casts a long shadow.”

Under the current arrangements anyone with assets of £23,250 or more is not entitled to any state help with the cost of a care home place. Thousands are forced to sell their homes every year as a result.

The commission is expected to recommend a more generous means test for social care, and a cap of around £50,000 before the state picks up the bill.