Care bills will soak up most of our savings

In a stark assessment of the growing crisis in elderly care, a government report warns that the country may not be able to afford to fund a cap on care costs for a rapidly expanding ageing population.

The report, released this week, depicts a bleak picture of the future, with a growing number of pensioners slipping into poverty as they use up their savings to fund care and rely on friends and family for help. It lays bare the scale of the task facing ministers and will increase the pressure on David Cameron to address the issue.

An official review of the social care system published last year recommended that the Coalition should introduce a cap of £35,000 on the maximum amount that people have to pay towards a nursing home.

This would stop tens of thousands of people having to sell their homes to fund treatment.

Over the summer, the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary indicated that they wished to introduce the proposed cap. However, the new report represents a change of tone that could lead to the threshold being significantly higher, or even being abandoned.

The Government warns that in the future, people will have to take more “responsibility for their own and their family’s health and wellbeing” with millions of Britons facing the prospect of having to become informal carers for elderly relations.

The warning was sounded in a joint statement from three government departments to a House of Lords committee investigating the ageing population.

In the joint submission, the Department of Health, Department for Work and Pensions and Department for Communities and Local Government say that the Government is “unable to commit” to the £35,000 cap.

“Any such system will have a cost,” the official submission says. “At this time, the Government is committed to reducing the structural deficit, and we are unable to commit to introducing a new system. The Government needs to take a broad view of all priorities and pressures before coming to a final decision.”

The failure to cap care costs will lead to a growing number of people losing their life savings, the submission adds.

“The state only provides social care support to those with the least ability to pay,” it says. “This leaves those with some wealth with the risk that they could lose almost all of it, if they need care. With an ageing population, more people, and their families, will face this problem.”

By 2030, the number of pensioners is forecast to rise by 51 per cent with the number of people over 85 more than doubling. The number of disabled older people is expected to rise by 61 per cent to four million.

The Government predicts that this will lead to unprecedented pressure on the NHS, councils and the state pension system.

Without more state help with care costs, officials believe that the number of older people forced to rely on families and friends will double by 2030.

The evidence concludes that it is “uncertain” whether society will be able to rely on working people to step in with such “informal care”. The formal parliamentary submission also reiterates warnings that people will have to work longer to reflect rises in life expectancy. It is increasing so rapidly that a 65-year-old man can expect to live for an extra year compared with someone retiring five years ago. The submission states that increasing the state pension age gradually to 68 will help, but “even with the proposed changes”, the care costs will still be too much for working age people to support. In future, the state pension age will, therefore, rise automatically in line with life expectancy, under changes to be outlined by the end of this year.

The departments also suggest that “flexible working” should be introduced for older people to encourage them to contribute to the economy for longer.

In relation to the NHS, the Government says that even though the health budget is not being cut, hospitals must still save billions of pounds a year to keep up with the demands of an ageing population.

The Royal College of Physicians has already warned that the high number of older patients is having a “profound effect”, with over-65s accounting for 70 per cent of all time spent in hospitals.

Local councils fear a funding shortfall of a third, or more than £16 billion, by the end of this decade partly because they will have to care for more older people.

One in 10 people already has to pay more than £100,000 towards their care.

Last night, Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, said: “As part of [our] reforms, we are committed to taking action to ensure people do not have to sell their homes in their lifetime to pay for care.”

Find us

Southwark Carers
3rd Floor, Walworth Methodist Church,
54 Camberwell Road, London, SE5 0EW
View map and directions

Contact us

020 7708 4497

Find us

Nearest tube: Elephant & Castle underground station (Northern and Bakerloo lines).

Nearest Railway Station: Elephant & Castle

Buses from Elephant and Castle: ask bus driver for Burgess Park. Bus numbers: 12, 171, 148, 176, 68, 484, 42, 40, 45