Elderly care system is a ‘dog’s breakfast’, minister Paul Burstow admits

The current system of organising care for the elderly and disabled is a “dog’s breakfast” and in urgent need of reform, the minister responsible for it admitted yesterday.

Paul Burstow said the social care system is no longer “fit for purpose” and is based on a complex and overlapping set of regulations dating back to the Tudor poor laws, which were reformed in the 1830s.

The Coalition is due to unveil its plans for reform in a white paper in April, to replace a patchwork system of overlapping entitlements and care standards in different areas.

But the white paper will not deal with the crucial issue of how to fund care for the elderly, which is the subject of separate cross-party talks taking place behind closed doors.

Similar talks designed to explore the possibility of creating a national care system based on the model of the NHS broke down in acrimony before the 2010 election.

This time even details of when and how many meetings have taken place have not been disclosed. A “progress report” is due to be released with the white paper.

During a live discussion on the social networking website “Gransnet” Mr Burstow heard a cataologue of examples of poor care and took questions on the need for an overhaul.

He responded: “I think social care law in this country is a complete dog’s breakfast, and is the product of piecemeal change over the last 60 years.

“Our social care law looks back to the poor law and is not fit for purpose.”

He rejected predictions that most people would have to have private health insurance in 10 years instead of relying on the NHS but hinted that it might be necessary for people to have insurance to pay for personal care in their old age.

“I do think that there is a need for more people to wake up to the truth, even the nasty little secret, about social care: it’s not free, and never has been,” he wrote.

“I know this comes as a shock to an awful lot of people, who think it’s just like the NHS and think it will be free when you need it.

“The sad thing is that too many of us fail to plan for the time when we might be frailer, and as a result of that, put ourselves at greater risk … we have to have conversations earlier that are about how we plan for our long-term care needs, just like we have to have those conversations about pensions and other aspects of financial planning.”

He also said it was unacceptable that some elderly people are “not treated as a human being” while needing care and adding: “We need to ban age discrimination in our health and care system.”

Last night Michelle Mitchell, director-general of Age UK said: “In every sphere of life from hospital to social care or simply buying insurance, older people face daily discrimination.

“Ageism is the most common form of discrimination in the UK.

“It’s time to stop treating older people as second class citizens because of their age and recognise the valuable contribution that people in later life can and do make.”

Liz Kendall, the shadow minister for older people said: “The care system has reached breaking point. Fewer and fewer older people are getting the help they need as eight out of 10 councils are now providing care only for those with substantial or critical needs.

“And charges are soaring – for home care, residential care and meals on wheels – leaving many families struggling to know how they will cope.

“Paul Burstow should own up to the fact that more than £1 billion has been cut from local council budgets for older people’s care since his Government came to power.

“We need urgent action to tackle the immediate care crisis and put in place a better, fairer system of funding for the future.

“That’s why Labour has called for cross party talks on this issue and is pressing for legislation in this Parliament. I hope the Government agrees.”

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