Fiona Murphy asks whether the white paper on long-term care is effective enough and what more needs to be done
After months of speculation, the care and support white paper has finally arrived. And it is a bittersweet moment.
Industry commentators correctly predicted that there wouldn't be any detail on funding. The verdict is a disappointing one - no aspect of the paper or its supporting documents addresses the most important question of all - how should we pay for long-term care?
Health secretary Andrew Lansley said government stands behind the "principles" of Dilnot's proposals for a care-cap but has backed away from the cost of implementation, as we have known for some time. But the paper also unveiled some interesting developments. Overall, is it a resounding disappointment or a step in the right direction?
Ros Altmann, director-general of Saga describes the white paper as a missed opportunity due to the lack of information on fees.
She says: "It's a sticking plaster, when actually we need proper surgery. We're not curing the problem; we're delaying dealing with it. It's so disappointing.
Government has to make decisions. These are difficult decisions. Of course they are. The issue is supposedly there is no money but we are going to spend money whatever happens. The reality is if we don't reform it now, it will [impact] the NHS."
Janet Davies, managing director of Symponia agrees with the general feeling of disappointment: "It's disappointing that everyone has hyped this, wanting to hear something about funding and there is nothing in there."
In the separate progress report, there is mention of the role financial services can play. An action plan that stands out is "we will set up a working group with financial services and the care sector to ensure the right information is available to help people plan ahead for later life and we will clarify the tax treatment of disability-linked annuities."
This is encouraging news and one that Chris Horlick, managing director of care at Partnership welcomes.
He says: So the jury has to remain out. It's been a great step forward for many. Lots of individual bits to be welcomed - in particular we welcome the notion they will set up an expert working group to look at how the sector as a whole can contribute and make links with pension benefits, wider services and specialist financial advice. Particularly financial advice - that's been our core lobby for a long-time and it's lovely to see it in the progress report on funding in black and white. We've got to give credit where it's due. It's just the money that is missing."
But Davies warns: "The progress report isn't a white paper - you don't have to be committed to a progress report, it is disappointing the country is left dangling."
However despite the negatives, there are encouraging signs for self-funders. One such development is the introduction of a universal deferred loan, which people will pay from their estate. This will mean people will not have to sell their homes to pay for care - a development likely to affect the equity release market which is growing in popularity.
Horlick explains: "The impact on equity release is an interesting one. If people believe they have to leave their home unencumbered to be free to utilise it for care fees - it could potentially slow down the equity release market.
However, he says this is unlikely: "We don't have a track record in this country of deferring pleasure today to save for something we need tomorrow. So if somebody wants to go on a cruise or consolidate their loans or whatever else equity release is used for, I doubt they would defer it because they will be as blinkered as most people are, thinking they will never need social care."
Overall, it is clear that financial services has a role to play. But in the meantime, many people looking to fund care will be left stranded.
Davies' overwhelming response is one that consumers and financial services must take into account. She said: "It's just overwhelmingly disappointing people will still have to fund their care and take advice - nothing's changed really. In fact it becomes more important than ever for people to take advice - at least they know they're doing the right thing."
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