Social care reforms are not good enough

Politicians clearly don't see looking after old people in need of long-term care as a vote winner. That much became clear when, a couple of weeks ago, the government announced what turned out to be its rather meek plans on how to reform the UK's social care system.

Yes, the government finally revealed a cap on social care costs in England will be introduced from 2017, which will see bills limited to £75,000. It also promised to up the means-tested threshold at which people will lose their right to help with care costs from £23,250 to £123,000.

But while the latest announcement is much improved on the details revealed in the Social Care White Paper on long-term care published back in July last year - which turned out to be a complete damp squib - it's still a long, long way from being a solution to our pending long-term care crisis.

Back then, I wrote: "The White Paper revealed little of real interest, or indeed benefit, to anyone in need of long-term care, despite the fact that the problem is a ticking time bomb as the population grows older and, unfortunately, lives for longer in ill health."

Not perfect but fairer

Sadly, I believe the same can be said about the latest reforms. The new system has been described as "while not perfect, it is fairer", but I would say that's like applauding someone for speeding at 80 miles per hour instead of 120mph; it's still not right.

While a cap has long been called for, it is disappointing to see the government has decided to ignore the £25,000 to £50,000 limit recommended by the independent Dilnot Commission on Funding of Care and Support in 2011.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said the £75,000 cap will give people "greater peace of mind", but according to the BBC, while it is estimated half of all people turning 65 in future will have to pay up to £20,000 towards their basic nursing care, only one in 10 will have to spend more than £100,000.

"The proposed cap of £75,000 is far too high and will be unaffordable for many families," argues TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady, and I couldn't agree more.

Further pain

As for the means-testing threshold, while it's great that people with assets amounting to less than £123,000 will now get financial help towards care costs, with the average house price at £162,000 the majority of people will still not be eligible for any help should they need it.

And that's in today's figures - although we're unlikely to have another property boom within the next decade, it's safe to say house prices are set to continue their steady rise and will be even higher by the time the care proposals come into effect in 2017.

Adding further pain, the care cost cap will not include the expense of bed and board, which alone can amount to £12,000 a year. So for someone staying in a residential home for 10 years, the total cost could come to nearly £200,000.

I reiterate what I said back in August 2012: "For elderly people needing care and for the families supporting them, this is simply not good enough."

If the government wants to avoid long-term care costs from crippling a large part of the population, real measures have to be taken. And they have to be taken now.

Failure to deal with this issue head on will be to the financial detriment of future generations.

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