State must pay family carers to look after elderly, say MPs

Families should be given state funding to care for their elderly relatives at home, a group of Conservative MPs has said.

The current system means it is cheaper for families to put relations in the hands of local council-run care services, according to a report from the Free Enterprise Group.

The organisation said the Government could save an estimated £1.14 billion a year by funding families directly. Chris Skidmore, the MP for Kingswood, who wrote the report, said: “Where a local authority might otherwise be paying several hundred pounds a week for residential care, they could instead be offering a fraction of that to a relative to provide care themselves.”

Such a move would improve “quality of life” for the elderly, allowing them to stay at home “and be looked after by the people that know them best”. Charities and campaigners have warned that funding cuts have left council-supported services in crisis, with more elderly people kept in hospital for longer because of a shortage of nursing home places.

Under the Government’s existing policies, councils are responsible for ensuring that local residents who need care are allocated “personal budgets” to spend on home help, specialist equipment, or other services.

Mr Skidmore said evidence from Germany and Holland showed that putting cash directly in the hands of families to provide “informal” care was more efficient than diverting funds through councils.

An average weekly bill for a privately-run care home is around £500, according to official figures.

Under the Free Enterprise Group proposal, a typical allowance given to a family caring for a relative would be around £350 per week. Mr Skidmore argued that “many” families would take up the lower offer of cash in their pockets rather than relying on state-funded care because of the “flexibility and freedom” it would provide.

The report found that councils had been forced to write off more than £100  million of debts in the past 10 years because families had been unable to pay charges for care.

Currently, local authorities are owed a £361 million by users of adult social care services. Ministers are considering plans to increase the number of families eligible for state-funded help to meet the costs of care for elderly and disabled adults.

Cross-party talks are under way between Labour and the Coalition and a White Paper is expected in the coming months.

An estimated 75 per cent of pensioners over 65 will require some form of care during their lifetimes.