Page last updated at 11:43 GMT, Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Concerns over social care plans

By Nick Triggle
Health reporter, BBC News

Elderly people
There is already a wider review of social care in the pipeline

The government's plan to offer the most vulnerable people free social care in their own homes in England has been met with a cool response.

Charities and care homes said other groups of people could lose out.

It comes while the government is consulting on a much wider reform of social care, prompting suggestions it has been drawn up for the election.

It would take until next autumn to implement the bill which was announced in the Queen's Speech.

The plan affects only about half of the 500,000 people receiving care in their own home - most of these are elderly although some are people with disabilities.

It is unhelpful to just have one piece of the jigsaw
Jane Ashcroft, of the English Community Care Association

On top of that, more than 400,000 living in care homes will not benefit from the bill.

In contrast, during the summer a green paper was published putting forward a series of proposals affecting the whole range of social services.

These include radical plans to impose charges, perhaps as much as a £20,000 bill payable on retirement.

The consultation on the green paper only finished last week and many do not expect to see firm details of what is likely to be a controversial measures put forward this side of the election.

The Tories have also entered the debate by putting forward a plan for an £8,000 bill so elderly people can avoid paying for residential care.

Under the plans put forward in the bill, about 280,000 judged to have critical needs - that is basically people who cannot get out of bed or feed, dress and wash themselves - will get free home care regardless of wealth.

At the moment all people receiving social care at home are means-tested with anyone with savings over £23,000 having to pay for help.

Ageing population

The move, first announced by Gordon Brown at the Labour party conference, mirrors the system in Scotland.

Wales and Northern Ireland are also looking at ways to reform social care as the UK faces up to the prospect of an ageing population.

But the newly-merged Age Concern and Help the Aged charity said it was worried that councils may start restricting access to care for those not classed as having critical needs or pushing people into care homes when it was not necessary to save money.

Andrew Harrop, head of public policy at the charity, said: "It will be essential that councils are properly funded to provide this care, so that there are no perverse incentives."

He added fundamental reform of the system was still essential.

Jane Ashcroft, chairman of the English Community Care Association, which represents voluntary sector bodies running care homes and providing home services, added the timing was suspicious.

"It is unhelpful to just have one piece of the jigsaw. Ultimately, the proposals could lead to an even greater drain on public resources without having a tangible impact on the quality of life of our older people."

It comes after the government announced last week that it would also be looking to introduce legislation to guarantee patients maximum waiting times.

For non-emergency operations this would mean people waiting no longer than 18 weeks - if they did the NHS would have to pay for the person to be seen privately.

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