Elderly care: politicians urged to ‘pull their heads out of the sand’

Party leaders are being urged to “pull their heads out of the sand” to reach agreement over the elderly care crisis.

By , Social Affairs Editor

11:28AM BST 27 Apr 2012


Campaigners urged politicians to rise “above politics” to after the leaders of every major council in England and Wales called on the main party leaders to act now to avoid “dangerous” delays in agreeing reform to elderly services.

In a letter to David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, they warned that services such as parks, libraries and leisure centres might soon have to close to fund their growing care responsibilities unless a new system can be agreed.

The warning is issued in a letter to the three main party leaders by Sir Merrick Cockell, the chairman of the Local Government Association, which speaks for almost 400 councils in England and Wales.

Sir Merrick, the Conservative leader of Kensington and Chelsea council in west London, drafted the letter with the agreement of all the political groupings within the association.

“For too long we have toyed with adult social care reform and failure to act now may be the failure that tips the system over,” he writes.

“We cannot afford any further delays. We are clear that any such loss of momentum on exactly how care is funded is dangerous.”

The council leaders call on the Government to make a commitment to cap the amount that anyone will have to pay for their care in old age.

Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director General of Age UK said: “We warmly welcome the cross-party agreement at the LGA on the need for urgent action to tackle the care crisis and the risk that those in long term care will be hit by catastrophic costs.

“Now the national parties must do the right thing and reach agreement too. Getting older people the care they need is so important that it ought to be above politics.”

Dr Ros Altmann, Director General, Saga, said: “The Government must act urgently. “Today’s letter speaking on behalf of 400 councils in England and Wales adds to the unprecedented level of agreement, across all parties involved in social care, that reform is desperately needed and cannot be left any longer.

“Andrew Dilnot has given a framework and now the Government must act. Fast.

“We believe an integration between health and social care services budgets would make more sense than just leaving the social care of our ageing population to already cash-strapped councils as demand continues to rise.”

“Policy-makers need to pull their heads out of the sand and address these priorities.”

Last year an official commission chaired by the economist Andrew Dilnot recommended setting a cap of £35,000 on payments for care over a lifetime.

The Dilnot Commission also proposed raising the assets threshold above which the elderly do not receive help with social care costs from £23,250 to £100,000.

Around 1.2 million frail or vulnerable people in England rely on care services provided by their local council. It is thought that almost one million more are in need but do not receive help. Councils believe that unless the Dilnot reforms are implemented they will be forced to bear the burden of increased social care costs.

Ministers originally suggested that a White Paper detailing reforms of the care system would be published last December. This was later pushed back to April. Now, officials have privately suggested that the plans will not appear until next month or even later.

The paper is the subject of cross-party talks in Westminster. Although the participants have agreed to remain silent on the progress of the talks, they are rumoured to have stalled. At present the Government is committed only to giving a progress report on the talks when the White Paper is published.

The LGA letter marks the first time that council groups have called unanimously on the Government to make an explicit commitment to the Dilnot principles. They say they are working on an “offer” to the Government on how savings could to be made to pay for a new care system.

“We cannot afford any further delays,” they warn. “Only with cross party working and agreement will we be able to avoid further short-term tinkering and ensure delivery of the radical reform which is required.

They say that a “loss of momentum” would be “dangerous” on three fronts. “First it will exacerbate the problems of an already overstretched care system,” they say. “Second, and as a consequence, it will increasingly limit the availability of valuable local discretionary services as resources are drawn away to plug the gap in care funding. And third, it will fundamentally threaten the broad consensus that has built up around the Dilnot proposals from all quarters.

“The potential damage caused by any one of these dangers, let alone all three, could set the care reform debate back years.”

Councils are required by law to provide services such as bin collection, schools, roads and care for the most vulnerable.

Services such as leisure centres, parks, sports clubs, after-school clubs and some libraries are classed as “discretionary”.

The cost of paying for care takes up about 40 per cent of councils’ budgets, and an estimated £1 billion shortfall is expected to double by 2015. Sir Merrick said the question of funding care kept council chiefs “awake at night” and was ranked alongside environmental changes as their biggest long-term challenge.

Paul Burstow, the care services minister, said: “We will publish our White Paper on care and support shortly and are working hard to secure cross-party agreement to find a sustainable long-term solution on social care funding.”


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