Social care reforms a 'missed opportunity'
Published on 12 February 2013 11:30 AM
Labour has dismissed Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt's £1 billion a year reforms to social care, labelling them as 'modest' and 'timid'.
The plans, which are due to come into effect in April 2017, include a £75,000 cap on care costs - more than double the £35,000 recommended by the independent Dilnot Commission's review of the system.
In addition, the assets threshold beneath which people receive means-tested support to meet care bills will rise from £23,250 to £123,000.
On the other hand, more people will be hit by inheritance tax under the plans. This is because of a three-year extension of the freeze in the £325,000 threshold, or £650,000 for couples, above which the inheritance tax kicks in at 40%.
Mr Hunt declared the changes represent a 'new era' in support for older people, although Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham didn't share this view.
A missed opportunity
Responding in the Commons, Mr Burnham acknowledged the current, uncapped, regime was a 'cruel lottery where people go in to later life with everything they have worked for on the roulette table'.
But he also said that while the plans would make the system fairer they were a missed opportunity for a more radical shake-up.
'This is a step forward, but it is a faltering one. The House has been presented with a flawed prospectus today,' said Mr Burnham.
'Vulnerable people will still face rising care charges, homes will still be lost.'
The Shadow Health Secretary said it was ironic that the coalition was now increasing inheritance taxes to pay for its plan, something which he claimed fails to meet the challenge of the ageing society in the UK.
In his message to the Commons, Mr Hunt said the current system sent out the wrong message 'because any savings may only disappear in a puff of smoke' if they were wiped out by care costs.
Thousands of older people still not getting the help they need
Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director-General at Age UK commented: 'Today the Government has taken a brave step towards bringing older people and their families peace of mind in contemplating future care costs.
'Whilst the £75,000 level will temper rather than dispel anxiety for most around care costs, it is an important principle that no one should be left to face spiralling care needs alone. The rise in the level of the means test will also provide much needed additional help towards the costs of care.
'The proposals alongside planned legal reforms currently being considered by Parliament begin to build a better social care system in England. However, the fact remains that thousands of older people who need help are still not getting the support they desperately need. That is why we want the Government to also address the fundamental issue of funding a decent state care system in England.'
Copyright Press Association 2013