Pensioners may have to wait ‘years’ before the state funding of social care can be reformed, according to the new health secretary Jeremy Hunt.
Speaking at a fringe meeting at the Conservative conference, Mr Hunt stressed plans to limit the amount elderly and frail residents pay for care were ‘very expensive’ and might need to be watered down.
'In think people would rather see us choose the right solution but have perhaps a longer timescale,' he said.
Social care costs are currently unlimited and anyone with assets of more than £23,000 receives no help from the state, meaning one in 10 adults will face a bill of more than £100,000 for their care home costs.
Last year, a Government commission chaired by the economist Andrew Dilnot, recommended that the state should cap costs at around £35,000 with the Government stepping in to foot the bill above this level.
In his first major comments on social care since taking over from Andrew Lansley as health secretary in September, Mr Hunt suggested the estimated £1.7bn bill for the Dilnot proposals was too high.
Mr Hunt asked supporters of the plan to consider ‘how we can reduce’ the costs, and said: ‘There are obvious things we could do, increase the cap, reduce the eligibility’.
He also suggested the possibility of an ‘optional’ cap on care costs, with pensioners choosing a one-off fee to buy state insurance against unlimited care bills.
Councils provide state funded social care and are under intense financial pressure as a result of Britain’s aging population.
Chair of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, Cllr David Rogers, said: 'Councils are facing an immediate and growing funding crisis in how we provide care to the elderly that needs addressing now. Local authorities are already facing an estimated £1bn reduction in social care budgets and this year will have to find an additional £890m.
‘While we support Dilnot’s proposals, it’s vital that serious and real reform includes an honest appraisal of what a modern social care system costs and how it is to be funded. Failure to do this will be more expensive in the long term and threatens to affect the popular services we all take for granted.
‘Without urgent action we are going to see the cost of providing care for the elderly soaking up every last penny of council budgets.’