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Tories unveil social care funding reform plans, ahead of manifesto

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The Conservatives have revealed their plan for reforming funding of long-term social care, by adjusting means testing and scrapping a proposed cap on all individuals’ lifetime costs.

Prime minister Theresa May said the proposals reflected “a commitment to get to grips with the great challenges of our time and to take the big, difficult decisions”.

“It is the responsibility of leaders to be straight with people about the challenges ahead and the hard work required to overcome them,” she said.

The party – ahead of publishing its full manifesto later today – also said there would be “far-reaching system improvement to improve co-operation between the NHS and the care system, relieve unnecessary and sometimes unhealthy stays in hospital and examine how to make best use of specialist housing and new technology”. No detail has so far been given on what this means.

The Tory party statement to media said it would “take immediate action to deal with the pressures in the social care system”, although dates have not been given.

The plan abandons the recommendation of the 2011 Dilnot commission, previously supported by the Conservatives but not yet introduced, of capping the total of what any individual must pay for their long-term social care.

This makes the reforms cheaper but some will argue undermines their aims and could mean the long-standing problem of social care funding persists. It has been criticised this morning by Sir Andrew Dilnot for failing to provide for individuals to pool the risk of huge care costs.

The proposals involve:

  • Means testing winter fuel payments… “and transferring the money raised directly to health and social care”. It is not thought there are any changes to NHS budgets intended in the announcement.
  • Including the cost of people’s homes when means-testing to decide whether they must pay for domiciliary care – as currently happens for residential social care – to raise additional income.
  • “introducing a single capital floor, set at £100,000, below which their assets will be protected from social care costs” – up from the current floor of £23,250.
  • Extending deferred payment agreements – under which people pay what they owe when they sell assets or when the die – to domiciliary care. The Conservatives said this means “no one… has to sell their home within their lifetime, or the lifetime of their surviving partner if they live together”.
  • The party will also give people the right to request unpaid leave from work to care for a relative for up to a year.

The party’s statement said its plan would “make the social care system fundamentally fairer, better funded and more sustainable, helping to ensure elderly people receive the dignified and high quality care they deserve”.

“This is something successive governments have failed to tackle, leaving a system that is not working for hundreds of thousands of people receiving care or the organisations providing it,” it said.

As well introducing new costs for people with assets above £100,000 receiving domiciliary care, and removing the winter fuel payment for some, the announcement means the party is dropping its earlier commitment to capping people’s total care costs, which was broadly supported in the sector.

“They broke their promise, letting older and vulnerable people down”

Barbara Keeley

The Tories said in their 2015 election manifesto that they would introduce the cap, but put forward no way of funding it, and shortly after the election said the cap would be delayed until 2020.

Ms May has been under pressure to act on social care since becoming prime minister. She introduced a “council tax precept” meaning local authorities can raise more, instigated a review of social care funding and policy, and announced some additional short-term funding to local councils for care earlier this year.

She has also said there must be more consistency in standards of care commissioning and provision, and better integration between health and care. Later this year the Care Quality Commission is due to carry out inspections focused on this in 20 areas.

The Conservative manifesto later today is also expected to propose an increase in charges on migrants for using the NHS.

However, both Labour and the Liberal Democrats accused the Conservatives of abandoning their pledge to introduce a cap on care costs and claimed many older people would end up paying more for their care.

“It is a betrayal of people who work hard all their lives”

Norman Lamb

Barbara Keeley, Labour health spokeswoman, said: “In their last manifesto they promised a cap on care costs. But they broke their promise, letting older and vulnerable people down.

“It’s the Tories who have pushed social care into crisis; their cuts to councils have meant £4.6bn axed from social care budgets between 2010-15, leaving 1.2 million people struggling to get by without care,” she said.

“We need real action to fix the system,” she said. “We’ll increase social care budgets by £8bn over the lifetime of the parliament, including an additional £1bn for the first year. We will set up a National Care Service to provide the care that people deserve.”

Liberal Democrat health spokesman, Norman Lamb, who introduced a cap on care costs while a minister in the coalition government, said: “It is a betrayal of people who work hard all their lives, end up with a condition like dementia and will now be saddled with catastrophic costs to pay for their care.

“The Liberal Democrats will introduce a cap on care costs of £70,000 to protect older people from seeing everything they’ve worked hard for disappear,” he added.

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