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Gordon Brown pledges 'national care service' for elderly

Older people with the most serious needs will get free care at home, Gordon Brown has said, pledging to create a “National Care Service” to look after the elderly.

James Kirkup - Daily Telegraph

Older people with the most serious needs will get free care at home, Gordon Brown has said, pledging to create a “National Care Service” to look after the elderly.

The Prime Minister made the surprise announcement about free personal care at the Labour Party conference in Brighton. Charities welcomed his words, but raised fears about the funding and delivery of the pledge, which will affect up to 350,000 people.

Mr Brown said: “Today more and more people see their parents and grandparents suffering from conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia and they see their dignity diminish. For too many families the challenge of coping with the heartbreak is made worse by the costs of getting support.” Middle-class families with savings and property are currently penalised by means-testing rules that mean anyone with wealth of more than £22,500 gets no financial support.

Mr Brown said: “The people who face the greatest burden are too often those on middle incomes, who have savings which will last a year or two but then they will see their savings slip away,” he said. “For those with the highest needs we will now offer, in their own homes, free personal care.”

“High need” is defined as requiring more than 16 hours of personal care - like help with washing and dressing -- a week. Around 350,000 people are currently paying for that level of care at home.

The judgement of who will qualify for free care will be made by local authorities, raising concerns about inconsistent application of the new rules.

The changes will cost £400 million a year, No 10 estimated. Aides claimed that the costs of the plan will be met mainly by cutting parts of the current health budget, including some medical research, management consultancy costs, advertising and IT programmes.

Those “efficiencies” would raise around two-thirds of the cost of the new system, No 10 said, saying the money will be transferred to councils. The rest of the money would come from the savings for councils of reducing the number of people who go into residential care.

The plans will apply in England and Wales and will apply from September next year if Labour wins the next election.

Scotland already offers free personal care for the elderly, although the policy has faced serious financial troubles as the Scottishauthorities struggle to fund it.

Mr Brown also said that a White Paper due in the New Year will launch a wider overhaul of the social care system, creating a new system of universal care that could be funded by a levy on all workers when they retire.

Experts warned that by asking councils to pay for free care at home, Mr Brown could end up giving local authorities a “peverse incentive” to push more people into residential care, where they will still have to pay fees.

Niall Dickson of the King’s Fund, said: 'Assuming the extra funds from central government won’t be ring fenced there is a danger that local authorities will have a perverse incentive to encourage people into residential care where many older people will still have to pay out of their own pockets.”

Andrew Harrop, Head of Policy for Age Concern and Help the Aged said: “It will be essential that councils are properly funded to provide this care so that there is not an incentive for them to push older people into care homes or claim that their needs are not critical enough to warrant free care at home.”

October 2010