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Suffolk/Essex: Campaigners hit out at Hunt’s care costs reforms

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt

GROUPS representing older people in Suffolk and Essex have criticised the Government’s plans for the funding of social care, announced yesterday in the House of Commons.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt confirmed the “fully-funded” plan to cap at £75,000 the amount elderly people in England have to pay for social care.

There will also be a rise from £23,250 to £123,000 in the amount of assets people have before having to contribute to the costs of basic nursing care.

The plans, expected to cost about £1bn a year, will be part-funded by freezing the inheritance tax threshold - at £325,000 for individuals and £650,000 for couples - for three years from 2015.

Martyn Green, chief executive of Age UK Suffolk, said it was “disappointing” that the cap will be double that recommended in the Dilnot report, prepared by economist Andrew Dilnot who was asked to look at how to fund care reforms.

Mr Green said: “Age UK has always supported the need to see a cap on social care costs and the protection this offers to older people against limitless care costs, especially for those that have saved.

“It is disappointing though to hear that this cap is likely to be twice as high as the £35,000 suggested in the original Dilnot Report with a cap of £10,000 on so called ‘hotel costs’ for their board and lodging costs in care.”

He said he was encouraged by the raising of the “very low” means test figure, which would be of great benefit to many older people if it could be introduced immediately as many older people see their last savings disappearing into care costs.

He said that if the changes were not implemented until 2017 then hundreds of Suffolk-based older people would struggle to obtain the care they need over the next four years.

Barbara Williamson, chairman of the Colchester Pensioners’ Action Group, said the Government did not understand the financial pressures facing older people.

Mrs Williamson, 75, said: “It won’t make a lot of difference. How many properties are there that are below that price (£123,000) in this area? Not a lot, I think.

“I can’t see that it’s going to make a lot of difference at all - but I hope I’m wrong.”

Mrs Williamson said older people were seen as an “easy target” by the Government and called for more support for the many people struggling to make ends meet. She added: “We want to be treated with respect and for the state to acknowledge the benefit of older people to the economy and the amount of work which is done on a volunteer basis by older people.

“I guess a lot of them (MPs) don’t understand the way that older people are having to live and what it costs.

“The amount of pension that an older person gets is less than what the majority of MPs would spend on a night out and the amount per annum a pensioner gets is about how much MPs would spend on a holiday - and we have worked all our lives, the majority of us.”

Speaking in the Commons yesterday, Mr Hunt said the “historic” reforms would save thousands of people from having to sell their family home to pay for care.

He said: “We need to become a society where people prepare and plan for their social care costs as much as they prepare and plan for their pension. Sadly, this is an issue that governments of all colours have long failed to tackle.”

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