Town halls urge solution to care crisis

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Councils in England and Wales have called on the three main political parties to resolve the looming crisis in social care for the elderly amid growing expectations that ministers will not make any financial decisions about the issue for over a year.

Sir Merrick Cockell, chairman of the Local Government Association, said he was becoming increasingly “anxious” about the issue, warning that local authorities could be forced to cut back other services such as libraries, leisure centres and parks if it is not resolved.

“For us it is the stay awake issue; it may not dominate day to day attention but it demands long term thinking,” said Sir Merrick, who is the Tory leader of Kensington and Chelsea council. “I’ve always said I would never cry wolf to government…the figures are just unsustainable.”

Next week, the LGA will unveil new financial modelling showing how hard its members will be hit financially if the government fails to break the logjam over social care.

Councils provide care services for more than a million frail and elderly people. Because of the ageing population, the group has worked out that taxpayers would have to find an extra £12bn a year to fund care for the elderly by 2030, almost double the current annual cost of £14.5bn.

In addition, the number of people having to pay for their own care costs without any support from the state could double from the current number of 128,000 to 264,000.

“If we carry on as we are, then universal services provided by local authorities get squeezed and squeezed until we are really doing adult care and some other things we have little control over,” Sir Merrick warned in an interview with the FT.

Councils, which are losing 28 per cent of their main grant during the course of this Parliament, are braced for further cuts in next year’s comprehensive spending review - which would put even more pressure on social care budgets.

Ministers are publishing a white paper on social care in July – having delayed it since December – but have effectively delayed the funding issue until the CSR in late 2013.

The idea of cutting back universal benefits for old people – such as free bus passes and winter fuel allowances – has been mooted but could not be done before 2015 because the coalition has vowed to preserve them.

The Dilnot commission, chaired by economist Andrew Dilnot, published a report last year suggesting that individuals’ liability for care costs should be capped at about £50,000 with the state paying the remainder. It also proposed raising the assets threshold above which the elderly do not receive help with social care costs from £23,250 to £100,000. This would cost an estimated £1.7bn extra each year.

But Lord Warner, a Labour peer who sat on the commission, warned on Tuesday that the government was “drifting” on its attempts to resolve the issue. “We were very clear in the commission that you had to expect the generation who were going to benefit from this to pay more towards the cost of their care.

“If you do nothing, which is what we’re drifting towards, what you are going to end up with are state funded residents in nursing homes and residential care homes not receiving services.”

Andy Burnham, shadow health secretary, urged ministers to get on and find a solution to the “cruel lottery” of funding to protect the most vulnerable. An estimated 20,000 people are forced to sell their homes to pay for care each year. “Leaving the current flawed system in place would be the worst of all possible worlds,” he said.

The LGA warned the three political leaders in the spring that services such as parks, libraries and leisure centres might soon have to close to fund their growing care responsibilities – unless a new system could be agreed.

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