The government has delayed a decision on how to fund its social care reforms, causing widespread criticism and disappointment.
Instead of laying out its own plans, the government will set up a commission to examine the various options and offer recommendations for the “fairest and most sustainable” way to fund the social care system.
But any new funding system will not be introduced until after the next general election but one, with the delay likely to be at least six years.
The Department of Health said the annual total spending on adult social care was about £14 billion in 2008-09, and introducing free personal care when people needed it would cost an estimated extra £3.6 billion in the first year.
Although health secretary Andy Burnham said the commission would look at all the possible funding options, he also made it clear the government did not believe paying for care and support largely through increased taxation of working-age adults was a viable option.
Instead, he stressed that everyone would have to contribute “in a fair way” through some form of “shared social insurance”.
Burnham said the commission would “be asked to bring forward proposals on the principle that everybody contributes and that everybody should have a choice about how they make that contribution”, and added: “All options will be within its scope.”
He said people would be given “choice and flexibility” in how they contributed.
The Care and Support Alliance of disability, service-user, older people’s and carers’ charities called for more detail on the “key question” of funding, and said the proposed commission should be established “as a priority” early in the next parliament.
RADAR said it was concerned that there was no discussion of how young disabled people might be expected to contribute, and added: “Charging people who have not yet accumulated wealth will maintain their economic disadvantage compared to their peers.”
Stephen O’Brien MP, the Conservative shadow health minister, said the white paper had recommended “yet another commission, like the one ignored by the Labour government in 2000” and “does not mention costs, which no serious debate would ignore”.
Norman Lamb MP, the Liberal Democrat shadow health secretary, said Labour had again hit social care reform “into the long grass”, and was offering “a series of piecemeal reforms that have not been properly thought through or costed”.
But Burnham did describe how the offer of free personal care for those who had spent more than two years in residential care, from 2014, would be funded.
He said the £800 million a year cost would be met through social care efficiency savings, a freeze on the inheritance tax threshold and money saved by increasing integration between the NHS and the social care system.
1 April 2010