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Page last updated at 14:06 GMT, Friday, 26 September 2008 15:06 UK

Caring for the elderly

Chris Lyddon
The Politics Show South West

BBC Politics Show South West examines the issue of care for the elderly.

The feet of two elderly people
Care services demand set to double by 2050

The programme highlights what families and campaigners believe are key problems with current policy and examines the possible solutions.

The Work and Pensions Select Committee forecasts that the number of people over 65 using council care services will more than double over the next 40 years.

It says that because government spending on personal care is growing more slowly than the number of people needing help, a funding gap will emerge of 6bn.

Tess Nash, a 70-year-old pensioner from Cornwall, tells the programme that she will have to sell her home to fund her stay in a care home.

She suffers from emphysema and believes the government should have acted 10 years ago to head off the impending crisis in care for the elderly.

Tess says: "Elderly people need care homes for which they have paid their taxes all their lives.

"It is disgusting to learn that there are even fewer elders 'eligible' for entry into a care home than there were when Labour came to 'power'.

"Perhaps we should change that word 'power' to 'responsibility'.

"The inconsistency of consideration from one local authority to another in the decision-making as to whether a person is eligible for a care home seems to indicate that this may have something to do with local funding."

Means testing issue

So many families simply cannot afford to fund care.

More than one million people use care services to help them live independently but means testing has led to many more of them having to pay for their own care.

Anyone with assets over 21,000, including property, has to pay for their own care.

The charity Age Concern says for many they either receive care that is of a poor quality or they do not get enough to meet their needs.

Brendan Paddy, of Age Concern, tells the Politics Show: "At the moment the funding for care for the elderly is inadequate but it's also extremely opaque.

Social care provision declining

The number of households receiving social care help from local authorities fell from 479,000 to 358,000 between 1997 and 2006 even as the number of pensioners rose.

Ministers are reviewing the care system and have promised a Green Paper next year.

"It isn't clear what sort of funding people are going to get and that's part of the unfairness of the system," said Mr Parry.

"People frequently say 'I will have to sell my house to pay for my care or dig into my savings to pay for my care', and that's an issue that upsets people greatly.

"I think it's very likely that the government will look for a system where the public pays for some of the cost and if the deal is fair and if it's transparent Age Concern would accept something like that.

"We're not saying the government must pay for all of it."

Elderly people
Life savings are often the only resort

Personal care payment

One proposal that is favoured by some politicians is a 'personal care payment' for all over-65s requiring care.

The idea is that people would receive money to pay for care, but it would be up to them to decide exactly how it is spent.

The personal care payment would guarantee older people payment to cover the great majority of care they need.

Individuals could then 'top up' their care package by making private contributions which would be matched by the state - pound for pound - until the maximum benchmark is reached.

People on low incomes would have the additional contributions made through the benefits system.

The payment would vary according to assessed need.

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