Page last updated at 18:00 GMT, Monday, 12 May 2008 19:00 UK

Brown vows to make care 'fairer'

Gordon Brown outlines his reforms

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has pledged to reform the social care system for England's ageing population.

He says that without a radical shake up, the care system in England alone faces a 6bn shortfall within 20 years.

His speech kicks off a six-month public consultation focused on making care services fairer and affordable.

In Scotland, personal and nursing care is free, whereas Northern Ireland and Wales still have the means-tested system that England has.

The speech comes after a weekend dominated by memoirs from Cherie Blair, John Prescott and Lord Levy focusing on his relationship with Tony Blair.

Those memoirs added further pressure on the prime minister as he seeks to regain the political initiative after poor local election results.

Mr Brown's speech, to the King's Fund in London, came as forecasters say that in the next two decades a quarter of the UK's adult population will be over 65 and the number of people over 85 will have doubled.

Selling homes

Growth in the number of elderly and disabled people with care and support needs is expected to put huge pressure on services and the benefits system.

This is an issue at the heart of our ambition to create a fairer Britain
Gordon Brown

Speaking to charities, NHS workers, trade unions and local government leaders, Mr Brown said that the current means-tested system could seem unfair.

He said he understood the anxieties of families who fear having to sell their own homes to pay for long-term care, and of losing assets they would otherwise have passed onto family or friends.

To combat this, he suggested ideas including better collaboration between health and social services, and helping people to save for their old age while protecting their homes and inheritance.

He also said he wanted care to be more responsive to demands for independence and it must be made easier for people to stay in their own homes.

"This is an issue at the heart of our ambition to create a fairer Britain. Of course, helping relatives is a challenge that most families rise to - however difficult it becomes," he said.

'Looming crisis'

"But that doesn't make it any easier. Nor does it remove family worries about providing physical care that is needed - or take away people's concerns that at some point in the future they may have to sell a treasured home to pay for their own care.

"It is essential that in future there is fairness for those who work hard and save for their retirement."

Health Secretary Alan Johnson said there were no easy or pre-conceived answers and that it would be a "proper debate" with no pre-determined answers and a green paper to follow.

Paul Cheesman on the social care he receives

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the current system was "inadequate" and he did not want to leave the problem to future governments.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg accused the government of "11 years of delay and dither" in its management of social care.

"This government has presided over a collapse in elderly services," he said. "Ministers have responded to the chronic warnings of a looming crisis only with criminal under-funding.

"Our proposals for a 'personal care payment' would ensure a fair deal for all elderly people who need personal care and would put an end to the injustice of poor access to social care."

Technology

But Niall Dickson, chief executive of the King's Fund, welcomed the announcement, stressing: "All main political parties agree the current system is complex, unfair and unsustainable - all of them know we need to look at radical solutions which will provide better care, promote independence and not penalise those who save."

David Rogers, chairman of the Local Government Association Community Wellbeing Board, said there was a funding "black hole" because financial support for councils had not kept pace with the demands of an ageing population.

"Social care budget increases have not kept pace with demographic changes, forcing councils to withdraw services for people with low and moderate needs, such as help with the cleaning and bathing," he said.

To coincide with the launch of the social care consultation, Mr Johnson announced a 31m pilot scheme trialling new technologies to monitor people's health.

The technology will be tested by people with diabetes or heart and chest problems and the elderly in Kent, Cornwall and east London.

It monitors any lifestyle changes and can transmit information from a patient at home to a doctor if they display any worrying signs.


SEE ALSO
Q&A: Social care
12 May 08 |  Health
The social care conundrum
01 Feb 08 |  Health
Minister backs costly care policy
01 Feb 08 |  Scotland

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