In the list of proposals that will be in the final parliamentary session before the next election, expected in May 2010, is a bill on personal care.
This guarantees free personal care for the 280,000 people with the highest needs, such as those with serious dementia or Parkinson's disease. It protects the savings of the 166,000 people who currently get free care, saving them from having to pay future charges. It promises to help 130,000 people needing to enter care homes for the first time to regain their independence. It offers adaptations to the neediest people's homes to increase their independence.
Ministers will be in a race against time to deliver on this last-minute agenda and there is no guarantee either that there will be parliamentary time, or that it will go through in the form above, it will apply to England only.
Age Concern and Help the Aged comment, “Providing free home care for people with the highest needs will provide welcome relief for some of the poorest and most vulnerable older people. But fixing the crumbling care system will require much more comprehensive strategies. This represents the first step in ensuring a better deal for this group. It will be essential that councils are properly funded to provide this care, so that there are no perverse incentives to either push older people into residential care homes earlier than needed or assess their needs as not critical enough to warrant free care at home. Even if this Bill reaches the Statute Book, fundamental reform of the entire care system will still be urgently required. We call on all the political parties to set out definitive plans for reforming the system ahead of the next General Election so that older people, their families and carers can judge their proposals for providing the high quality care people desperately need."
The plan affects only about half of the 500,000 people receiving care in their own home - most of these are elderly although some are people with disabilities. More than 400,000 living in care homes will not benefit from the bill. 280, 000 people are judged to have critical needs, people who cannot get out of bed or feed, dress and wash themselves.
At the moment all people receiving social care at home are means-tested with anyone with savings over £23,000 having to pay for help.
Wales and Northern Ireland are also looking at ways to reform social care as the UK faces up to the prospect of an ageing population.