By Nick Triggle Health correspondent, BBC News 11/07/12
The government is setting out its White Paper on social care later, amid calls for greater clarity on how it plans to fund the system in England.
It has said it agrees in principle with the idea of capping how much people have to pay but it will not explain how or when this will happen.
Instead it will focus on promising more equal access to council care for elderly and disabled people.
But charities and council leaders say greater clarity is urgently needed.
At the moment, each council can set its own eligibility criteria for care for the elderly and disabled.
Ministers will promise national standards by 2015 setting out who is entitled to help at home and residential care places.
There will also be a specific promise to allow those who face the largest costs to defer payment until after their death.
This loan scheme, which is already available in some areas, means those who need to go into care homes and are not entitled to state funding – anyone with assets of more than £23,250 does not get help – will have their fees paid for and then recovered from their estate.
Interest would accumulate on the loan.
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said this meant that from April 2015 people would be able to delay selling their home to pay for residential care.
He told the BBC the deferred loan scheme would help people plan in the short term.
Mr Lansley added: “There are a number of big questions. I hope we will offer some real positive answers.”
And he said supported a cap “in principle”, but that work was needed to establish how it would be paid for.
What to look out for
The government has already released a lot of details about what will be in its Care and Support White Paper. But as always the devil will be in the details.
• Funding – The issue of capping costs has been relegated to a progress report, meaning there will be no firm commitments. But how it is worded and any detail about a timetable for making a decision will be key.
• Social care at the end of life – Free care was ruled out long ago, but there have been suggestions free help at the end of life could be piloted. While expensive, it could be funded from savings to the NHS as people often end up in hospital during their final days.
• National standards – The white paper will include details of a national system of eligibility. This will cover how severe a person’s needs are for them to be considered for help. The key will be at what threshold this is set at. The higher it is set, the smaller the number of people who get help.
But despite cross-party talks on the issue of funding and an independent review last year recommending a cap of £35,000 being placed on costs, ministers will not make specific commitments on what many believe is the key issue to reforming a system that is commonly said to be in crisis.
The cap is viewed as an essential way of getting the public to plan for old age and to encourage the insurance industry to get involved in developing policies for them, as it protects both from the risk of unlimited care costs.
Without this engagement, social care is deemed as unsustainable as free social care has already been ruled out.
The cap will be mentioned in a separate “progress report” accompanying the white paper, but it will not put forward any favoured proposals, government sources told the BBC.
Ministers have argued it is still possible legislation to reform funding will be introduced in this parliament, but many in the sector have expressed disappointment at the delay and are now arguing there needs to more detail about how the government will proceed from here.
Labour called on the government to divert some of the NHS’s underspend for social care.
“Today’s proposals are meaningless without the money to make them a reality,” shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said.
“George Osborne should get his act together and hand back half the money he has taken from the health budget.”
Sir Merrick Cockell, chairman of the Local Government Association, said: “There is an immediate crisis in social care which needs to be urgently addressed now.
“No-one would disagree that care should focus on an individual’s needs, but attempts to improve the quality of care are meaningless if there is no money for councils to provide these services.”
Michelle Mitchell, of Age UK, said: “The proposals will not live up to ambition without the solid foundation of a fair and sustainable funding structure so we need the government to make it clear how reforms will be funded and set out a clear timetable.”
And Carers UK chief executive Helena Herklots added: “Delay is not an option… families will demand an urgent timetable.”
The Red Cross’s Mike Adamson said councils were under “huge pressure” because of budget cuts and called on the government to explain how services allowing people to live at home for longer would be protected.
Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies told BBC Radio 4′s Today it was important that the government found an equitable way of paying for care.
“If you just look at this policy in isolation, it is essentially pensioners with reasonably significant assets who will benefit as a class,” he said.