The coalition could beef up its proposed reforms of the social care system to increase the number of older people entitled to help, care minister Norman Lamb has signalled.
The shift could see hundreds of thousands of people currently not deemed ‘disabled enough’ to qualify for care receive some type of state-funded assistance.
The reforms, based on the recommendations of a report by economist Andrew Dilnot, will introduce a notional £72,000 cap on the amount people assessed as having substantial needs should have to pay for care in their lifetime.
The new approach championed by Mr Lamb, which would place greater emphasis on preventing health problems, was broadly welcomed by Age UK.
But the campaigning charity warned the strategy would fail unless it was accompanied by adequate funding.
It said large numbers of older and disabled people could be shut out of the care system altogether if the bar was set too high.
And, more immediately, many people with chronic illnesses and disabilities are currently battling to overcome the effects of cuts to frontline services.
Reforms do not go far enough
Mr Lamb, a Lib Dem member of the coalition, set out his vision in an interview with the Telegraph.
He suggested the sweeping reforms of the social care system currently before Parliament did not go far enough and risked leaving thousands of vulnerable older and disabled people without adequate help.
Unless further changes are made, he said, it could create a system in which large numbers of people are effectively told ‘to go away and get sicker’ before they could expect any help.
And Mr Lamb said he told officials at the Department of Health to embrace a ‘more sophisticated’ approach and ordered them to draw up plans for further changes.
The coalition’s Care Bill, due to be scrutinised by MPs later this week, was not necessarily ‘the final word’ on changes to the social care system, he said.
Age UK director Caroline Abrahams gave the new approach a cautious welcome.
‘Shifting the focus to prevent health problems before they become a crisis makes good sense for everyone,’ she said.
‘It can give a person a better quality of life and saves money. However, frontline cuts are leaving older people struggling on alone whilst living with chronic illnesses and disability.
‘Our worry is that unless there is adequate funding in place more and more people who need help will continue to find themselves in a desperate situation.’