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Last Updated: Friday, 12 October 2007, 16:41 GMT 17:41 UK
Changing social care?
Social care
Helping hand
Care costs around 400 a week on average
People with assets of 21,500 or over must pay for their own care

This week, the Chancellor hinted that plans are being assessed for the government in England and Wales to meet more of the costs for elderly and disabled people who need long term social care.

But what is the current position, and what are the other parties offering?

In England and Wales, health and social care budgets are kept separate.

Those needing social care - for example help with washing and cooking - must pay for their own unless they have less than 21,500 in assets.

Critics complain about two particular aspects of this system.

They argue that the distinction between health care (which is always free), and social care (which many people pay for) is often a false one.

They also complain that current rules effectively penalises those who have worked and saved hard all their lives, while giving free care to those who have not.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

Social care is devolved to the administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and they have each taken the opportunity to offer more generous state funding.

In Scotland, the Executive introduced a policy of free personal care for the elderly, which has now been in operation for almost five years.

This policy implemented the recommendations of a Royal Commission which reported in 1999, while the same recommendations were rejected by the Westminster government.

The policy in Wales is different.

Legislation which covers England also covers Wales, but the Assembly Government does have some powers and in recent years they have introduced a 76m support package.

This extends free personal care beyond what is normally available in England, but is still less than that available in Scotland.

In Northern Ireland, Michael McGimpsey, the minister responsible, has announced that he would like to introduce free personal care and has set up a working group to look at how he could do so, and what the implications might be for other services.

Opposition positions

The Conservatives announced, just before their party conference, that they favoured a single assessment process for both health and social care needs.

They want a "pooled budget", which would consist of two parts: one covering social care and means-tested and the other, healthcare-related and free.

They say this would given individuals and their carers "the flexibility and empowerment to choose their providers."

The Liberal Democrats have a long-standing policy to provide free personal care, in line with the Sutherland Report and with policy in Scotland.

Let us know what you think - what price on care for the elderly?.

The Politics Show Sunday 14 October 2007 at 12:00 BST on BBC One.

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