Social care: The £75,000 question

Most of us will need care and support in our old age. In fact, the evidence suggests about three-quarters of us will.

For some it will be no more than a little help in the home with activities such as washing and dressing. For others it will involve round-the-clock support in a care home.

But how much is that worth?

Unlike NHS care, such help is not free.

At the moment anyone with assets of more than £23,250 faces unlimited costs.

For one in 10 that can be more than £100,000 over a lifetime.

The system means thousands of people are forced to sell their homes or use up their life savings to pay for help.

But this could be about to change.

It seems likely the government will announce in the coming weeks its intention to cap costs at £75,000.

The amount is more than double the £35,000 sum recommended by an independent Dilnot Commission which looked at the issue two years ago.

And that makes the move a gamble.

The £35,000 cap was based on careful consideration and calculation.

Chaired by a leading economist, the commission felt the figure would be both high enough so it was affordable to government, while being low enough to entice the public to start planning for old age.

At £35,000 ministers would need to find about £2bn a year - the sum they currently spend on the winter fuel allowance.

But after months of debate the government has decided that is too big a price to pay. Hence, the higher cap, which was briefed to journalists as part of the release of the coalition's mid-term review earlier this week and is likely to be fleshed out in more detail within the next month.


However, the problem with increasing the cap is that the carefully constructed Dilnot plan could start to fall apart.

While the £35,000 figure is a lot for many people, it is considered by most experts to be within a margin that would encourage many people to start planning for old age.

That is important. If people start getting engaged with the issue, the insurance industry will begin to come up with policies, safe in the knowledge that the catastrophic costs will be covered by the state.

But by increasing the cap to £75,000 there is a risk the public is turned off.

So far all those involved in the social care sector have kept their counsel.

That is partly an acknowledgement by many of them that the government deserves credit and partly a tactical calculation.

Councils, campaigners and charities have been promised reform for the best part of 20 years and so there is a genuine appreciation that this government is doing something at a time when money is so tight.

But there is also a belief that establishing a cap - even at a higher rate - is an important stepping stone.

As one person involved in lobbying the government told me: "This will create a new contract between the state and individual over social care.... when it happens we can then start pushing government to make it more generous."

An announcement on the cap, it is fair to say, will not signal the end of the debate.