Karen’s column on elderly care costs

Posted: 12/02/13

It wasn't long ago that people retired from work expecting, at best, a few years in which to enjoy the fruits of their labour. The transformation of our society into one where retirement spans decades for the majority is remarkable, welcome- and challenging. There are now more pensioner than young people in our society for the first time. So the question of how to provide and pay for good care- whether medical care in hospital, or social care at home- is one of the most profound of our age. There has been plenty of bad news to ponder. The collapse of standards at Mid-Staffs hospital may be the biggest and most deadly scandal to rock the health and social care world, but enough stories have emerged about neglect and apparent indifference towards elderly patient in the public and private sectors to justify a rigorous re-examination of our whole approach. The costs of residential care can easily run into the tens, if not hundreds of thousands of pounds, forcing many people to sell their homes to cover the bills. Meanwhile more than £1.3 billion has been cut from local council budgets for older people's social care since the Coalition came to power. As a result, many vulnerable people can't get the support they need and are having to pay more for vital services. 8 out of 10 of those who used to receive social care from Westminster Council lost that service as this government's cuts began to bite in 2011.

Doing nothing isn't an option and the money has to come from somewhere. A commission led by the respected economist Andrew Dilnot suggested care costs be capped at £35,000, to provide some certainty for older people and their families. This week's government announcement does not go nearly that far- setting the maximum at £75,000. This is still a step forward, and will help some people who need residential care in 5 or more years time but Dilnot warned that anything above £50,000 won't provide adequate protection for people. And these proposals won't do anything for the hundreds of thousands of elderly and disabled people who are facing a desperate daily struggle to get the care and support they need right now.

We are going to need a far bigger and bolder response to meet the needs of our ageing population, including a genuinely integrated NHS and social care system which helps older people stay healthy and living independently in their own homes for as long as possible. That will inevitably mean a fair contribution from those who can afford it, but one capped at a realistic level, so it can be planned for and so that the number of people forced into losing their homes in their lifetime is as low as it can be. Long life should be a cause for celebration. Our generation's task is to ensure that the celebration doesn't curdle under the pressure of costs and the lottery of care.