There has been much gnashing of teeth since the government sneaked out an announcement that it was postponing implementation of the long-awaited cap on care costs until 2020. Of course postponing something for four years means in reality that it will be abandoned.
I welcome the announcement. The cap was a bad idea, poorly implemented. It would have benefited few older people and their families, and most of those would have been wealthier. Many older people would still have been forced to sell their home to pay their care costs because the cap was set at such a high level (£72k) and came with so many qualifying criteria.
Preparations for the cap were also tying adult social care departments up in knots with all the new systems, IT, reviews etc involved - all at a time when cuts are being made in care. Perhaps most importantly the cap brought no extra money for care into an under-funded system.
In fact the cap should never have been taken forward in the Care Act. I have argued consistently since 2011 that the cap should be scrapped - for example this leaflet from United for all Ages explains why. It's a shame that politicians in the coalition government insisted on pursuing the regressive policy.
So what should the government do instead, with the next spending review imminent?
First, there is a simple alternative measure to help more families with the cost of care. The assets threshold at which people have to pay the full cost of care should be raised to £250k. This would be simple to administer given it builds on systems already in place and LSE research shows it would cost the same as implementing the cap. The key difference is, it would help poorer families and the threshold could be linked to the average price of a house, thereby tackling the issue of selling homes.
Secondly, in the longer run the issue of under-funding needs to be addressed alongside the joining up of health and care. Creating a unified budget that funds the health and care that an individual needs would be a big step forward and should promote real integration. It could even save money.
The question is whether the government is prepared to use the opportunity of scrapping the cap to fund and deliver a much better and fairer system to pay for better care.