England left behind in social care race, charity claims

England is being ‘left behind’ in the social care race, Age UK has warned (Joe Giddens/PA) Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

England has been “left behind in the race” to resolve its social care funding problems, a charity has warned.

Age UK said an entire generation of elderly people had “lost out” after various proposed care reforms had been left to “gather dust”.

The comments come after a new report compared social care systems across the UK, Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Japan.

While the authors said they did not find a “magic bullet” solution – every country is facing some problems – they concluded that England comes across “rather badly” compared with other systems.

The report, conducted by Incisive Health on behalf of Age UK, states that no government “is yet to really grip the issues”.

Age UK said that despite two Government consultations, two official Commissions, five Green or White Papers and one Act of Parliament, England’s system of means-tested care funding is broadly unchanged.

The authors of the report highlight that people with care needs in the countries compared get a more generous financial deal than those in England – where anyone with savings or assets above £23,250 has to pay all the costs of their long-term care.

Other countries generally either provide some non-means-tested basic level of support, and/or cap the amount of co-payment to be made, and/or use a more gradual means-test, the report adds.

“Sadly, this new report shows that England has been left behind in the race to update the funding of care for older people, compared to some other similar nations,” said Age UK’s charity director, Caroline Abrahams.

“As a result, our older people and their families are paying more and bearing a lot more of the risk of needing expensive long-term care.

“The reality is that an entire generation of older people in England has lost out, given that Germany embarked on care funding reforms in 1995 and Japan in 2000. Here, we have had to make do with a succession of consultations gathering dust.

“It is crucial that the forthcoming Social Care Green Paper isn’t yet another failed exercise.

“The evidence from other countries is that a package of measures that significantly improve the care offer to older people attracts a lot more public support than something more timid – the public isn’t stupid and will demand good value in return for paying more.”

Mike Birtwistle, founding partner at Incisive Health, said: “The social care system in the UK is in crisis.

“Recent budget cuts have combined with decades of political inaction to a leave an outdated system struggling – and in some cases failing – to deliver care to the standard we all expect.

“The Green Paper must grasp the nettle of this challenge and propose a realistic and funded plan to address the immediate crisis, as well as delivering longer term reforms to ensure the fairness and sustainability of England’s social care system.”

Commenting on the analysis, James Jamieson, vice chairman of the Local Government Association, said: “Adult social care is at breaking point due to years of underfunding, rising demand and costs for care and support.

“Council taxpayers cannot bear the costs of solving this crisis on their own. There is a pressing need to bridge a £3.5 billion funding gap facing adult social care by 2025 just to maintain existing standards of care.”

Sue Learner, editor of carehome.co.uk and homecare.co.uk, a reviews website for care homes and home care providers, said: “This report makes depressing reading. It is very concerning that England lags behind other countries when it comes to longer term social care provision. What we need is a fair and equitable care system.

“It is right that Brexit negotiations are taking the limelight, but it is totally unacceptable that, at the same time, older people are being forgotten about and marginalised.

“We need to be inspired by these countries which have developed strong and stable care systems and create a solution like the NHS that we can be proud of.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We have provided local authorities access to £9.4 billion in dedicated social care funding over the last three years.

“Our green paper due in the autumn will set out our plans to reform the social care system to ensure it’s sustainable for the future.”