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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 March 2006, 08:07 GMT 09:07 UK
Basic elderly care 'must be free'
Elderly woman
Many thousands have been forced to sell their homes to pay for care
Elderly people must be guaranteed a minimum level of state-funded social care, the government has been told.

Means-testing for care like washing, dressing and cleaning must end, said a review of England's social care by government adviser Sir Derek Wanless.

But it stopped short of backing free social care, suggesting a minimum care package should be topped up by personal contributions matched by the state.

Ministers said they would form a task force to look at the issue.

The report, commissioned by health think tank the King's Fund, found "serious shortcomings" in care provision and funding arrangements and called for investment to treble by 2026.

With the number of over-65s set to rise, politicians of all parties must take heed of this report's worrying findings
Dr Helena McKeown

Sir Derek said the present system was complicated, unsatisfactory and meant elderly people were prevented from thriving.

Currently those with assets of more than 20,500 have to pay for personal care. This penalised people who have saved, said Sir Derek.

Because of this means-testing and the focus on providing care in nursing homes, many thousands of people had been forced to sell their homes.

And this often shocked and frightened elderly people, he added.

Things would get worse unless action was taken to meet the needs of an increasingly ageing and needy population.

'Serious gaps'

People with a high level of need tended to get all the resources while those in moderate need suffered, he said.

In contrast, all personal care is funded by the state in Scotland.

Sir Derek said there should be an entitlement-based system not a means-tested system.

"That system should be worked through very carefully because there are going to be a lot more old people in future and a lot more people in need of care," he said.

"We're not saying that no one should ever have to sell their house in the system that we have put forward.

"What we are saying is the cliff-face that's there at present should be reduced."

The report found the number of elderly people with high social care needs would increase by more than a half by 2026.

We think for many, many people the best care home is their own home
Liam Byrne, Care services minister

To meet these needs at current service levels investment had to be raised from 10.1bn to 24bn, the report said.

But because so many people were let down by the existing system, the government should go further, it argued.

For a good but financially justifiable level of person care and safety, investment would have to reach 29.5bn by 2026, it claimed. This represents an increase of 1.3% of GDP to 3%.

Care services minister Liam Byrne said he welcomed the report's focus on allowing people to stay in their own homes.

'Damning verdict'

"We think for many, many people the best care home is their own home and 40% more people are now supported to live in their home than in 1997/98.

"We want that number to grow - that's because 80% to 90% of older people say they want to be at home."

However, Mr Byrne pointed out the partnership model being proposed would not eliminate means-testing completely from the system.

Dr Helena McKeown, chairman of the British Medical Association's community care committee, said the King's Fund's review shows there are serious gaps in access to social care services.

"With the number of over-65s set to rise, politicians of all parties must take heed of this report's worrying findings."

Conservative shadow health minister Stephen O'Brien said people were still being forced to sell their homes to pay for nursing home care up and down the country.

'Barriers to care'

"We welcome the proposals to restrict means-testing which is not only demeaning, but which means that those who have taken care to provide for themselves in old age are in no better a position than those who have not done so."

Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman Sandra Gidley said the report delivered a damning verdict.

She added that the government had neglected their duty to look after society's most vulnerable people and said the artificial distinction between means tested social care and free NHS care must be removed.

Help the Aged policy manager Jonathan Ellis said: "Putting an end to the complex and undignified means-testing system would remove many of the barriers obstructing older people's access to high quality care and support."

Why an ageing population will cost so much more money

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