Queen's speech 2012: Draft bill on social care announced

Care for the elderly
Image caption Who should pay to look after the elderly and disabled?

A draft bill on overhauling care and support for elderly and disabled people in England has been announced in the Queen's Speech.

The bill will put "people in control of their care and give them greater choice," ministers say.

The contentious issue of how social care is paid for is still unclear.

This week, charities and the Local Government Association called for radical change to prevent people being left "living in misery and fear".

Discussions are currently taking place between the political parties on how social care should be reformed. A White Paper was expected before Easter, but is now due to be published later this month or in June.

'Simplify' the law

A Department of Health source said the government was determined to push ahead with plans to tackle social care, but this would take time.

The draft bill would aim to simplify the law on social care, which is currently spread across "at least a dozen acts".

Funding for social care remains the most divisive issue.

In 2011, an independent review recommended a cap of £35,000 on the amount people would have to pay for social care.

Only those with less than £23,250 of assets are offered council-funded home help and care-home places. The review said that threshold should rise to £100,000.

Following those recommendations would cost an extra £1.7bn a year, the report said.

Katherine Murphy, the chief executive of the Patients Association, said: "We are encouraged that the issue of adult social care was included in the Queen's Speech, but what was not said was deeply worrying.

"It will be impossible to effectively reform social care without tackling the all important issue of funding.

"We urge the Government to publicly clarify the issue of funding for social care and give a clear indication of whether any legislation being considered on the issue will address changes to funding for social care."

The chairman of the Local Government Association, Sir Merrick Cockell, said described the announcement as a "positive step".

He said: "We understand that reform is not an easy problem to solve and we know that reform comes with a price tag. But we believe it's a price worth paying."

Labour said care was "in crisis" and the issue was "too urgent to kick into the long grass"

Liz Kendall, shadow minister for care and older people, said: "Older and disabled people deserve better. The key test for the Government is whether they will grasp the nettle and reform the way care is funded in future.

"There is nothing to stop the Government, if they are serious about social care reform, committing to legislation in this session of Parliament, legislation which includes funding reform as well as wider policy and legal reform."

Simon Gillespie, from the Care and Support Alliance, said: "We are deeply disappointed that the Queen's Speech did not contain a full social care reform bill - as will the millions of older or disabled people let down by the current system of care.

"The government has effectively broken its promise to introduce legislation to sort out social care in the second session of Parliament, and failed to grasp the urgency of tackling a crisis that is currently condemning too many older or disabled people to a miserable existence."

The director general of the charity Age UK, Michelle Mitchell, said: "A draft Bill on social care is some progress but a full Bill would have been so much better. As it is, this means no legislation for at least a year to drive the reform of social care law and funding that we desperately need.

"We accept that these reforms have to be got right and we want to work with the Government to make sure this happens; nonetheless, the millions of older people and their families who depend on good social care and who are often not able to get it will be asking why, yet again, they are being made to wait."

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