Neighbours must help elderly more - Norman Lamb

Elderly hand holding coins Ministers are considering a cap on social care fees

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People should do more to help elderly neighbours and ease the pressure on care homes, the care minister has said.

Greater community support would prevent pensioners living a "dismal existence" and going into care unnecessarily, said Norman Lamb.

He told the Daily Telegraph local councils should be helped to rebuild a "neighbourly resilience".

He also said a deal to cap personal spending on care fees would be unveiled in coming weeks.

The cap was a key recommendation of the government-appointed Dilnot Commission report into care in England, which said it should be set at between £25,000 and £50,000, with £35,000 the fairest figure.

But when the social care white paper was published during the summer, there was no commitment on the cap. However, it is understood that in recent weeks senior members of the government have begun discussing the merits of a cap again.

But Mr Lamb warned that any new cap was "not a panacea", and more needed to be done to prevent so many elderly people going into care at all.

He also warned that a limit "does not remove all financial pressures", saying that people would still have to pay for the residential component of living in a home.

Too many pensioners are being pushed into care when more could be done to keep them at home, living independent lives, said Mr Lamb.

"We all have a part to play. In this way, we can make the system sustainable, and it can be a more decent society, a less neglectful society than we sometimes experience where we just expect the state to do everything," he said.

"With the right support and the right community resilience, and a rebuilding of the neighbour support that used to be there, more people could stay in their own homes for longer.

"We have lost the extended family because families have become dispersed. We need to rebuild that neighbourly resilience that helps people stay independent.

"If someone is living on their own never seeing anyone, that is a dismal existence, and it often ends up with it all collapsing and them going into a care home."

Local authorities should play their part, he said, pointing to a system in Leeds where residents, including the elderly, can control public money to adapt their homes to help them live independently.

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