Page last updated at 14:08 GMT, Monday, 16 November 2009

'Wide debate' on care cost needed

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An assembly consultation is looking at how care for the elderly will be funded in the future, with one of the options compulsory insurance.

Proposals have been laid out by the Welsh Assembly Government on how care for elderly people could be financed.

It comes amid warnings that the current system is unsustainable.

UK ministers have said they want to see a debate on a compulsory state-run savings scheme or a private insurance in case people need care in later life.

Launching a "green paper" Deputy Social Services Minister Gwenda Thomas said a "wide debate" was needed on a "vitally important issue" for Wales.

The document will feed into a similar paper from the UK government, with no changes expected to be made before 2011 at the earliest.

The paper 'Paying for Care in Wales', outlines three main options for funding care in the future:

• a partnership between the state and individuals needing care, with the less well off having more of their care costs paid for them

• an insurance system, involving a state-backed or private scheme

• a compulsory system, where everyone over retirement age is required to pay into a state insurance scheme.

The assembly government and UK government has ruled out the option of expecting people to meet all their care costs on their own.

UK ministers, who are in charge of taxation matters, have also ruled out funding care costs entirely from the taxation system.

Launching the document, and a 15 week consultation on its contents, Ms Thomas said it was "widely acknowledged" the current system of paying for care was "complicated, unfair, and unsustainable in the long term".

"This is a vitally important issue for all of us in Wales and it is essential that we get as wide a debate as possible going on in our homes and communities," she said.

"I would encourage everybody to read and respond to this Green Paper, so that our discussions with the UK Government are as informed as possible," Ms Thomas added.

In November last year the assembly government launched an earlier consultation on how care services in Wales should be funded.

Marco Ferdenzi from Pontyclun, near Llantrisant, south Wales had to move his mother Margaret into a home last year. The family was initially told she did not qualify for financial assistance but he later found out that she did.
"My mother suffers with dementia and we had a situation where we needed to find her a home very quickly. We managed to find a place in a home and we didn't really look into the financial side of things in any great depth. It then became aware to us that due to my mother's financial circumstances, she didn't qualify for any funding whatsoever. So I was faced with a care bill of approximately £1,800 a month.

"My mother's funds basically weren't adequate to pay for her care for any length of time. I would then have to be faced with selling the property which we didn't really want to do because we felt then that the benefits of the property would be going to the council in a sense. So I was a little bit worried about that, a little bit stressed out because obviously financially that would have been crippling. "On the advice of a few friends I decided to go to a solicitor and seek professional help. We found that there was a situation where we did qualify for a certain amount of funding. We approached the social services with the particular regulations and we managed to win the case. "So the initial bill was £1,800 a month and after my solicitor had taken on the case we managed to get it down to £500 a month."

Wales has a larger elderly population in proportion to the rest of the UK.

That consultation, run in parallel with one in England, was prompted by predictions that services will face a £6bn funding gap across the UK in 20 years.

Sarah Stone, deputy Older People's Commissioner for Wales, welcomed the debate.

She said that older people need a system which is "fairer, more consistent and which addresses the longer-term financial issues as well".

Ms Stone highlighted the suggestion that people could pay in a system which they contributed to according to their need over their working life so that care would be free at the point of delivery

Ageing population

She said: "We need to listen to what people say as part of this consultation and look at what consensus comes through and take steps forward as this result.

"We have some concerns as a commission about proposals around future claims, claimants for attendance allowance which we think needs to stay as a benefit which benefits a lot of older people directly so we need to get involved in Wales in the UK consultation as well."

Figures show that about a third of men and half of women will, upon reaching the age of 65, need long-term care and support.

It is expected that nearly 96,000 people over 65 in Wales will need the support of social care services by 2031.

Wales also has an ageing population, and statistics indicate that in the next 20 years, the number of people aged over 85 in Wales will double to 137,000, and those aged over 100 will increase fourfold to more than 2,000.

The proportion of people aged over 65 to those aged 20-64 in Wales is projected to increase from 40% to 64% by 2031.



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