by Steve Beasant on September 21, 2012
The following article was written by the Former Liberal Democrat Care Services Minister Paul Burstow and published yesterday on the Daily Telegraph Website.
It is scandalous to force people to sell their homes to pay for care
Our social care system is broken, but will the Government be bold and take the decisions needed to fix it? The opportunity is there, the foundations have been laid and the plan is ready to go. It is still far from certain that the Coalition has the political will to grasp this historic opportunity.
Labour failed to fix care and support during its 13 years in Government, because despite Tony Blair’s Royal Commission it was never a high enough priority. The Coalition made a good start, setting up the Dilnot Commission within two months of taking office. But sustaining that pace has been tough.
Yet for the thousands of families navigating their way through an often complex and confusing care system, reform cannot come soon enough. For too many the experience is degrading, stripping them of their dignity and their assets.
As Care Services Minister I received more correspondence from MPs on care costs than any other single topic. After all, social care’s little secret is that it’s not free – a fact that often comes as a shock to families. This shock is amplified a thousand times over when we discover one in ten of us will face care bills of over £100,000. From that mailbag it was clear that the longer Government delays, the more older people and their families will feel betrayed.
But why speak up now? Simply because I fear the Coalition could be tempted to put care financing back in the “too difficult to do” drawer. The chances of needing care is an expensive lottery, a lottery people cannot insure themselves against. The prospect of losing everything you have worked for to meet care bills undermines thrift. There is no peace of mind and there is no justice in care.
The Coalition understood the “urgent need for reform”, and has been wrestling with these issues since May 2010. In July the White Paper I drafted was published. It tackles much that is wrong with care. Widely welcomed, it offered a vision of a better more compassionate care system. But the plan left unanswered the issue that makes so many people feel angry and let down, who pays for care?
Of course, if fixing this was easy the last Labour Government would have done it in those halcyon days when Chancellor Brown told us he had ended boom and bust.
So, why did Labour fail? And why, despite the signs the Prime Minister had changed his mind over the Summer, could the Coalition fail too? Answer: HM Treasury.
The Treasury’s view is simple: kick the can down the road despite our rising elderly population. There’s no sense of urgency. No recognition that left unreformed there is no incentive for families to plan and prepare.
In the view of mandarins, there is no need for change, and certainly not yet. That has been the Treasury line every time a reform plan has popped its head above the parapet. The good news is so far the Treasury has failed to smother the latest plan, a cap on lifetime care costs.
A cap would mean that care costs would be predictable, that families could plan, that thrift and hard work would be recognised. It would give families peace of mind. But these reforms only work if everyone can benefit from the cap.
There are some in the Coalition who think a “voluntary” cap would work, that for a fee, people could opt in. For me and my fellow Liberal Democrats, this kind of thinking is dangerous. A voluntary cap really does not add up.
If such a scheme could work, it would have been introduced somewhere by now, yet there is nowhere else on the planet that seriously thinks a voluntary scheme could work. To start with, it would need the financial services sector to step up. I have not seen any appetite to get involved in a scheme that would offer help to so few.
It would increase administration costs, with the old means testing system running alongside a cap for the few who could afford to pay the opt-in fee. Instead what is need is collaboration between state and private sector. The state has to do something no private insurance market will do: take on the tail-end risk, those unpredictable and catastrophic costs that make the system so unfair to hard-working families.
This universal approach to the cap would free up the private sector to do what it does best, to innovate and offer families affordable ways of financing their care costs up to the cap. The Government now has within its grasp a lasting reform of care in England.
As ministers grapple with these issues it is essential that all of us who believe our social care system is broken and unfair make our voice heard.
Ending the scandal of people forced to sell their homes to pay for care would be a legacy for this Government felt for generations. It would set the seal on a long overdue, comprehensive and genuinely popular reform of care and support in this country.
The question now is will David Cameron and Nick Clegg take on the Treasury orthodoxy and deliver a fair funding system that gives every family in this country peace of mind?