4th July 2011
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Andrew Lansley indicated on Sunday that the government will give a "very positive" response to a report on social care for the elderly but will not commit itself on the level of a cap on how much individuals are expected to pay.
The health secretary said the report of the independent Dilnot Commission on social care funding, to be published on Monday, would be treated as "the basis for engagement".
But he made clear that issues affecting the cost of the recommendations – estimated to add about an initial £2bn a year to public spending – had yet to be resolved. Wrangles are likely over the level of the cap and how to pay for it.
The commission is expected to recommend a cap set at between £35,000 and £50,000 on the amount people have to spend before the state picks up the remaining care costs.
It is also likely to suggest a substantial rise in the amount in assets people can retain and still receive means-tested help.
Currently only individuals with savings of £23,250 or less are entitled to free care at home or in a residential or nursing setting, but the commission may suggest raising that to closer to £100,000.
Andrew Dilnot, the commission chairman, believes the package would save thousands of pensioners from having to sell their homes to pay for their care, and also enable insurers to offer cover for the potential cost.
Experts suggest companies could cover care costs of up to £50,000 for a one-off premium of about £17,000.
The Treasury will study the costs carefully in view of the fiscal deficit, although any new system is unlikely to come fully into effect until 2015 or 2016.
The health secretary told Sky News's Murnaghan it would not be fair if reform led to "people of working age paying additional taxes in order to support those who are older receiving additional benefits".
A white paper – followed by legislation – may be delayed until next year because it must also cover changes to social care law recommended by the Law Commission, any fallout from Southern Cross's financial troubles and inquiries into alleged abuse at Winterbourne View.
Mr Lansley told BBC1's Andrew Marr Show: "Andrew Dilnot's commission makes clear that there is a range of issues within their own report that need to be resolved and on which it is fair for people to be able to express their view: where a cap should be set; how it is to be paid for; issues with the threshold for the means test; how the means test should be applied to people in the future, so they contribute to the cost of their care.
"And, of course, if people are in residential homes, they raise the question of the extent to which they should pay for their accommodation costs – as it were, their ‘hotel' costs in residential homes."
But he made clear that the status quo was not an option.
Just 16 per cent of British workers are saving to pay for their care needs in old age, even though the majority recognise the need to do so, according to a YouGov poll for Saga, the over-50s organisation.