Elderly care funding could force library closures.

Councils across the UK are warning that the crisis in funding elderly care could lead to the closure of libraries, parks and leisure centers.

Local government chiefs have issued a direct plea to the leaders of all political parties urging them to act quickly to avoid “dangerous” delays in agreeing reform to elderly services.

They warn that a failure to reach agreement soon on how to pay for care for the rapidly ageing population could set a long-term solution back years.   Such a delay could force councils to divert money from so-called “discretionary” services such as parks and libraries to “plug the gap”, they say.

The warning is issued in a letter to the three main party leaders by Sir Merrick Cockell, the chairman of the Local Government Association, which speaks for almost 400 councils in England and Wales.

Sir Merrick, the Conservative leader of Kensington and Chelsea council in west London, drafted the letter with the agreement of all the political groupings within the association.

“For too long we have toyed with adult social care reform and failure to act now may be the failure that tips the system over.  We cannot afford any further delays. We are clear that any such loss of momentum on exactly how care is funded is dangerous.”

The council leaders call on the Government to make a commitment to cap the amount that anyone will have to pay for their care in old age.

Last year an official commission chaired by the economist Andrew Dilnot recommended setting a cap of £35,000 on payments for care over a lifetime.  The Dilnot Commission also proposed raising the assets threshold above which the elderly do not receive help with social care costs from £23,250 to £100,000.

Around 1.2 million frail or vulnerable people in England rely on care services provided by their local council. It is thought that almost one million more are in need but do not receive help. Councils believe that unless the Dilnot reforms are implemented they will be forced to bear the burden of increased social care costs.

The LGA letter marks the first time that council groups have called unanimously on the Government to make an explicit commitment to the Dilnot principles. They say they are working on an “offer” to the Government on how savings could to be made to pay for a new care system.

They say that a “loss of momentum” would be “dangerous” on three fronts. “First it will exacerbate the problems of an already overstretched care system,” they say. “Second, and as a consequence, it will increasingly limit the availability of valuable local discretionary services as resources are drawn away to plug the gap in care funding. And third, it will fundamentally threaten the broad consensus that has built up around the Dilnot proposals from all quarters.


“The potential damage caused by any one of these dangers, let alone all three, could set the care reform debate back years.”

Councils are required by law to provide services such as bin collection, schools, roads and care for the most vulnerable.   Services such as leisure centers, parks, sports clubs, after-school clubs and some libraries are classed as “discretionary”.

The cost of paying for care takes up about 40% of councils’ budgets, and an estimated £1 billion shortfall is expected to double by 2015. Sir Merrick said the question of funding care kept council chiefs “awake at night” and was ranked alongside environmental changes as their biggest long-term challenge.

Paul Burstow, the care services minister, said: “We will publish our White Paper on care and support shortly and are working hard to secure cross-party agreement to find a sustainable long-term solution on social care funding.”

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