Social care: Hunt and Johnson urged to consider NHS-style free service

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The two Tory leadership candidates have been challenged to urgently bring forward plans to tackle the social care crisis if they become prime minister.

A committee of peers has called for an immediate £8bn cash injection and a move to a free, NHS-based, system.

And councils say the government’s much-delayed plans on elderly care should by published by September at the latest.

Jeremy Hunt says more money is needed, while Boris Johnson is calling for a cross-party approach to the issue.

Ministers say they have responded to growing pressure on the system with extra money for residential care, providing £650m this year to relieve strains on the health service.

But the demand posed by an ageing society and the number of those living with debilitating and degenerative conditions, such as dementia, has put a huge strain on resources.

The BBC’s assistant political editor Norman Smith said that while both Tory leadership candidates had made the issue a priority, successive governments had ducked away from far-reaching changes daunted by the costs and political risks involved.

The new plan, put forward by the Lords Economic Affairs Committee, was much more ambitious than any of the ideas mooted so far, he said.

It is demanding a radical overhaul within five years, with residential care free at the point of delivery modelled on the NHS. While individuals would still have to pay for their accommodation, there would be no costs for non-medical care.

The cross-party committee say the system should be paid for through general taxation, estimating it would cost about £7bn a year.

What is social care and how is it paid for?

Social care for the elderly covers non-medical needs such as help with washing, dressing and eating.

Everyone with income and assets worth more than £23,250 has to pay for support. Below that threshold, they contribute to the cost – with the amount paid based on means-testing of both savings and income.

The Conservatives dropped plans in 2017 to make people receiving care at home liable for the full cost if they were worth at least £100,000 following a political outcry.

Theresa May was accused of trying to introduce a “dementia tax” by charities and pensioner groups who said people would no longer be able to pass their homes down to their children if property values were taken into account when calculating care costs.

Some of the cash, the peers say, could come from the £20bn increase in NHS funding by 2023 agreed by the government last year.

‘Social mission’

Mr Hunt, who has described transforming care for the elderly as one of his “social missions”, said a 10-year plan was needed to put the system on a sustainable financial footing.

“I think a basic principle of a Conservative government should be that every single older person in our society is treated with dignity and respect,” he told BBC Local Radio.

“I do think that councils need extra money, and I’ve said that I think that’s one of the austerity cuts that went too far.”

But he said people also had to take “personal responsibility” for their needs in later life and was attracted to the idea of incentivising people to put aside money.

“I think we need to encourage people to save when they’re younger for their social care costs, for those last few months of your life which can be very challenging, just in the way that we save for pensions,” he added.

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A report by the Centre for Policy Studies think tank earlier this year called for wealthier homeowners to make a voluntary payment of up to £30,000 for their care needs in old age.

Speaking at a leadership hustings on Tuesday, Mr Johnson said different parties needed to come together as a lasting solution was not possible without a cross-party consensus.

He said two principles should apply – that no one should be at risk of losing their home, and that everyone should be treated with dignity in old age.

‘Vital care’

Shadow social care minister Barbara Keeley said the report was “another sign” that social care services were “at breaking point”.

“The government’s relentless and savage cuts to council budgets have caused a crisis with £7.7bn taken out of social care funding since 2010, cuts that even Jeremy Hunt now accepts were wrong and went too far. Boris Johnson must now do so too.”

She called on the leadership contenders to match Labour’s commitment “to invest an extra £8bn in social care across a Parliament”.

The Local Government Association, which represents councils in England and Wales, urged the government to publish its adult social care green paper by September, at its annual conference on Wednesday.

Its publication has been delayed multiple times.

Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the LGA’s community wellbeing board, said: “More than 12 months has passed since the government announced yet another delay to the publication of its social care green paper.

“Those who rely on vital care and support cannot wait any longer.”

In Scotland, free nursing care is available to adults who have been assessed by the local authority as needing that service. In Wales, there is a cap of £80 per week that local authorities can charge for care services, and those who have more than £50,000 in savings or capital assets will usually have to pay the care home fees in full.

In Northern Ireland, those who have more than £23,250 in capital will have to meet the full cost of residential care.