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Government refutes claim the elderly will pay £60,000 for care This article was published on guardian.co.uk at 14.58 GMT on Monday 16 January 2012. It was last modified at 15.02 GMT on Monday 16 January 2012.
The Dilnot report proposed a cap of £35,000 but a government working group has suggested that this be increased to £60,000. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images
The Department of Health has refuted claims that it is planning to force elderly people to pay £60,000 for care but remains open minded over recommendations made by a working group.
Responding to reports that the department was considering a near doubling of a proposed £35,000 cap on the amount the elderly or disabled pay for care, Paul Burstow, the care services minister, said the matter was still under consideration before the government's white paper in April.
"It is wrong to say we plan to force elderly people to pay £60,000 for care," Burstow said. "We are continuing to look at the whole system, which is outdated, unfair and in urgent need of reform, and will set out our plans in spring in the white paper."
A report from the Caring for our future group said in November 2011 that a cap of between £50,000 and £60,000 on the lifetime cost of care would provide a "tipping point" to "motivate and enable people to plan and prepare". It also said working adults should use private insurance or equity from their homes to cover future costs – a move that could expand the private insurance market.
A £60,000 cap would be a significant rise on "the most appropriate and fair figure" of £35,000 recommended by the Dilnot Commission in July 2011. Andrew Dilnot, the economist who led the commission, said a £35,000 cap could save the state about £1.7m.
However, speaking to the social care network, Dilnot said he believed the group's recommendations were "very positive" overall. He said the commission had recommended a figure of between £25,000 and £50,000 but had chosen a mid-way amount as the fairest. Dilnot said the working group had given a "top end" figure, and that the benefit of having a cap would be greatly reduced if the figure was much higher than £50,000.
Dilnot said that it was encouraging to see that the "financial services as a whole were very enthusiastic and had bought into [more participation]" and that the most important thing to come out of the working group was the need for a cap.
"A relatively small group need high care costs. In other areas of our lives risk is pooled but not here and that's what a cap does," he said. "There's a terrifying lack of control. Once you no longer fear losing everything you can put plans in place".
There is no current cap on care costs, with thousands relying on equity from their homes to help meet high bills and many at risk of losing their homes. Under the current system, those with assets of more than £23,250 have to meet the full cost of a care home. The group recommended raising this threshold to £100,000, after which individuals would be liable for full care costs.
Michelle Mitchell, Age UK's charity director, said the charity strongly supported a cap on care. It said it supported the £35,000 figure recommended by Dilnot. "After wide consultation and in-depth analysis, the Dilnot Commission recommended a cap of £35,000 which Age UK believes would help people to plan for their care needs and provide the certainty that might encourage the financial services industry to introduce products that could help in that planning process".
She added: "Inevitably any raising of the cap would mean that fewer people would be helped by the move and for many it could lessen the incentive to plan."
Considering the role of financial services in allowing people to plan for the future, the working group's report said the government and others still needed "to overcome mistrust in financial services which has been a major barrier".
The group also said a national campaign could also encourage people to prepare for future care through pension schemes or investment in property, with regular "awareness campaigns" to highlight the importance of planning. It said that it would not encourage people to save specially for care but to "accumulate generally for all costs associated with later life".
It said ministers would need to introduce clear rules on how to test the eligibility of those needing help and there needed to be greater consistency between authorities in assessment and eligibility for services.
Cross-party talks on how to fund the growing cost of care for the elderly and disabled are due to start on Tuesday. Discussions will include the health secretary Andrew Lansley, Paul Burstow, the Liberal Democrat state minister for care services and Labour shadow secretary for health Andy Burnham.