The government is rumoured to have put on hold its consultation on social care funding until next summer, and the previous Tory government’s pledge to introduce a cap on care home fees by 2020 has been abandoned.
A social care funding crisis looms large as the population of the UK is ageing: By 2040, nearly one in four people in the UK will be aged over 65, according to a recent Age UK report. But the country has little money set aside for elderly care, at either the state or the individual level.
While the next 18 months may be full of Brexit-related matters, retirement experts say that the government should not delay consulting on the crucially important matter of social care funding, which will impact families for decades to come.
Steven Cameron, pensions director at Aegon, says: ‘Social care for the elderly and how it should be paid for will touch every family across the UK. The government promised in its manifesto to consult on social care funding, including introducing an overall cap on how much any individual would be expected to pay.
‘The suggestions that the consultation may now be delayed until next summer will come as a massive disappointment to all those facing the current uncertainty around social care funding. There will always be a reason to delay. This issue of social care needs to be put at the top of the agenda and kept there until a solution is found.’
Aegon research has previously shown that only one in four people believe the government should cover all costs, with the remainder accepting the need for individuals to pay their fair share. But 87 per cent believe there should be an overall maximum an individual should ever face paying.
Tom Selby, senior analyst at AJ Bell, comments: ‘History will not reflect kindly on a government that has promised so much and delivered so little on long-term care. More than six years after the original Dilnot cap was proposed, it appears we are back to square one.’
Ministers are said to be considering whether workers should be encouraged to set aside a proportion of their wages each month to pay for their own future social care needs, similar to auto enrolment for pensions. Selby comments that the idea of a pension style auto-enrolment system for long-term care is potentially an interesting one, although the obvious risk is that with so many demands on their money, people will simply opt out. There would also likely need to be some sort of incentive structure to encourage people to put money aside, he suggests.
‘Never has it been clearer that some sort of independent commission is needed to knit these strands together and build a long-term savings strategy resilient enough to withstand political upheaval. That would, of course, require politicians to recognise their own inability to look beyond the next general election.’
Steve Webb, director of policy at Royal London, says: ‘For 20 years we have had Royal Commissions and expert reports on paying for social care, but we seem to be no further on. Only today the Care Quality Commission is highlighting the large numbers of people with unmet needs for social care and yet successive governments seem to have been paralysed and unable to put in place a fair funding system.’
Webb calls both for high-quality care provision for those unable to pay for themselves, and for innovative ideas ‘to encourage more people to make private provision through care insurance, so that the risks of facing huge care costs can be pooled among a large group’.
He warns that ‘another Green Paper, which simply asks more questions, will just push the issue further into the long grass.’
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