Page last updated at 17:45 GMT, Friday, 19 February 2010

Talks back compulsory levy to fund social care

By Nick Triggle
Health reporter, BBC News

Health Secretary Andy Burnham said he wanted ''a fairer way'' on care for the elderly

The government has been advised to back a compulsory fee to pay for social care at the end of a day of talks.

The meeting with charities, council chiefs and care providers agreed a levy payable on death was the best option.

But the government refused to commit to the charge - dubbed a death tax by the Tories - saying it would publish its plans soon in a White Paper.

The Tories said it was time for ministers to come up with a plan. They want to see a voluntary scheme instead.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats have said they are open to the idea of a compulsory charge.

The meeting, which was boycotted by the Tories, came after a fortnight of rows between the parties over the best way to reform the means-tested service.

We need to keep up the momentum for reform
David Rogers, of the Local Government Association

Last year, Labour set out a range of options in a Green Paper on how the system could be overhauled.

One of the suggestions was a compulsory fee, possibly up to £20,000, which could be taken from an individual's estate after death.

The Conservatives vehemently oppose this idea, claiming it would penalise families who want to look after elderly relatives themselves.

While there was a consensus in favour of the compulsory levy, ministers still refused to say whether they favoured it.

It is understood Health Secretary Andy Burnham is now considering whether it would be feasible to introduce the comprehensive system through a staged process.

This could involve a voluntary scheme to start with before a compulsory one was introduced once or if it had gained popular support.

A source involved in the talks said: "This would allow him to sell what is a controversial policy to the cabinet and then the electorate."


In a statement after the talks, Mr Burnham said the day had been a success.

"What people may not realise is that, for all the sound and fury of recent days, there is a good degree more consensus across political parties and the care world than people may realise.

"We now need to build on the points of agreement, and the recognition that leaving things as they are is not an option, to bring forward firm proposals for change."

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said: "We have been clear about our choices.

"But what are the Labour Party proposing? They plan a death tax in private but put up a smokescreen in public. The public have a right to a clear choice."

The newly-merged Age Concern and Help the Aged charity will now host another meeting in the next few weeks which the Tories have said they will attend.

David Rogers, of the Local Government Association, said: "We need to keep up the momentum for reform."

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