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June 30, 2011

UK: Elderly couples face paying £100,000 for care

LONDON, England / The Telegraph / Health / June 30, 2011

Elderly couples face bills of up to £100,000 for residential homes under plans to be announced next week after the government warned pensioners their care will “never, ever” be free.

By Tim Ross, Social Affairs Editor

Paul Burstow, the health minister, ruled out introducing a new NHS-style free national care service for all, and urged the public to accept “the nasty truth” that all but the poorest will have to pay for their own care.

Plans to be published on Monday are expected to propose a limit on how much individuals pay towards the cost of a care home place, meals on wheels, home adaptations and visits from helpers. The government would then step in to cover costs above this cap, which is expected to set at between £30,000 and £50,000.
The aim of the proposal would be to ensure that individuals do not have to sell their homes to meet “catastrophic” residential care costs that can exceed £300,000 in extreme cases.
But The Daily Telegraph understands that any cap would operate on an individual basis, meaning that a husband and wife could still face combined costs potentially running to £100,000.
However, there are signs that the government could delay a final decision on whether to approve the plans until next year, raising fears that unpopular but important reforms could be “kicked into the long grass”.
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On Monday, a commission led by the economist and broadcaster, Andrew Dilnot, will publish its long-awaited blueprint for funding care and support for elderly and disabled adults in England.

Mr Dilnot was appointed by ministers to design a new system in an attempt to resolve one of the most difficult issues facing public policy.

The current system of funding for care services is under unprecedented pressure as a result of Britain’s rapidly ageing population and tighter council budgets.

Anyone with assets of £23,250 or more, including property, receives no state help with the cost of a care home place, which is typically £26,000 a year but can rise far higher.

Speaking to an audience at the King’s Fund think-tank in London, Mr Burstow warned that care for the elderly would “never” be free, describing the idea of a fully state-funded system as “a fantasy”.

“It is not free. It never has been and it never, ever will be free,” he said. “That the boat has sailed on a wholly tax-funded social care system.”

Mr Burstow said he expected a public backlash when the reform plans are announced but stressed that one in four people already faces care costs of more than £50,000, while one in 10 will have to pay more than £100,000. “This is social care’s nasty little secret,” he said.

“When Andrew (Dilnot) tells us that he has an answer to social care funding, that all but the poorest will have to pay, the reaction might be a bit lukewarm, at best. There are no cheers for the bearer of hard truths.”

Under the expected plan to cap the costs, individuals could take out new insurance schemes to protect themselves, or be given incentives to save through their pensions, or downsize to a smaller home to fund their share of the bill.

But the Chancellor, George Osborne, is said to be reluctant to allow the state to promise to cover all costs above the expected £50,000 cap, and there are signs that the reform time-table could be slipping.

A White Paper setting out the Coalition’s detailed proposals was originally planned for later this year but Mr Burstow said this may not be published until 2012. The minister added that the Dilnot report would not herald “the government’s final word on funding reform”.

Michelle Mitchell, charity director at Age UK, warned that ministers must not “duck” urgently needed reforms. “If there is any sense that the timetable is slipping because this is being kicked into the long grass, we would react angrily and very critically,” she said.

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