Tens of thousands of England’s poorest pensioners face paying the same for their old age care as wealthier people after the government published details of the new cap on home and care costs.
The move will save the government hundreds of millions of pounds but leave many poorer homeowners exposed to “catastrophic costs” including the need to sell their homes to cover long-term care, analysts said.
“The proposed amendments to the Care Act mean reforms will no longer protect those with lower wealth from catastrophic costs,” said Charles Tallack at the Health Foundation thinktank. “The changes seem motivated by the desire to save money but do so by taking protection away from poorer homeowners.”
A pensioner with a £90,000 home in Burnley who qualifies for council help could pay the same for their care out of their own pocket as someone with property worth £250,000 or more in Surrey who is too wealthy for means-tested assistance. Care bills could still eat into almost all of their assets, forcing the sale of the house.
Torsten Bell, director of the Resolution Foundation thinktank, said: “if you own a £1m house in the home counties, over 90% of your assets are protected. If you’ve got a terrace house in Hartlepool worth £70,000 you can lose almost everything.” He added: “I’m really not sure the government’s thought this through..."
Analysts said the move could save the government hundreds of millions of pounds from the estimated £3bn cost of the cap, but the savings were being taken from people with low to moderate wealth not richer people.
“These changes will mean that the people who need the most protection from catastrophically high care costs – those with low to moderate levels of wealth – will get less protection than wealthier people,” said Sally Warren, director of policy at the King’s Fund thinktank. “They may well wonder why the prime minister’s promise that no one need sell their house to pay for care will benefit wealthier people but doesn’t seem to apply to them. The government was brave in raising taxes to fund the long-overdue reform of social care but, having taken two steps forward, has now taken one step back.”
At any one time, tens of thousands of people receiving care have such limited assets that they get means-tested help and so will be affected directly by the proposals. Hundreds of thousands of people who may never need social care will nevertheless be worried about being caught by the new system if they eventually require help. It effectively means some people with lesser assets don’t benefit from the cap at all.