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Pledge to ensure care reform does not penalise rural areas

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: February 13, 2013

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Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has pledged to tackle any spiralling costs of old-age care in rural areas if reforms hit the countryside unfairly.

The Western Morning News reported yesterday how the Government plans to introduce a £75,000 cap on the cost of nursing and residential home care – the first time the expense has been given a ceiling.

In addition, the means-testing threshold for state help will be increased to £123,000 of savings and assets, from a meagre £23,250.

But the cap covers only the cost of personal and nursing care. It does not include "accommodation" costs for bed and board, food or heating, with some estimating those costs could easily hit £150,000.

And given soaring house prices in the region in the last decade – the average house price in Devon is £242,374 and £221,024 in Cornwall – the means-testing threshold will still mean many in the Westcountry pay large sums for their care.

An additional problem for the region is its ageing population, typical in rural and coastal communities across the country, which are magnets for people to retire to.

Official figures show the Westcountry is likely to witness a boom in the over-65 population, leaving councils struggling to keep pace with the ageing population.

Strong demand would also push up costs, and an additional burden is likely to be caused by the extra 244,500 people of retirement age living in Devon and Cornwall by 2033 – bringing the over-65s population to 643,600. In the House of Commons following the announcement, Sarah Wollaston, Conservative MP for Totnes, pressed the minister on the issues facing rural communities.

She said: "I warmly welcome the statement, particularly the rise in the asset threshold, as I well remember my former patients' shock when they realised that for anything over £23,250 they would have to meet their entire costs.

"However, may I ask the Secretary of State to look again at the impact there will be on rural local authorities, for example, Devon's, which has the fifth oldest population in England?"

Mr Hunt responded: "I would just say that it is in some of those areas with the highest proportion of older people that the impact of the current lottery in care provision is so dramatic and needs addressing so quickly. I therefore hope that her constituents will welcome the certainty in these proposals, but I will certainly look at and identify whether any particular issues are raised in rural areas."

Mr Hunt told the House of Commons that the "historic" reforms would save thousands of people from having to sell their family home to pay for care.

But campaigners voiced disappointment at the level of the cap – more than double the £35,000 recommended by the independent Dilnot Commission in 2011.

And thousands more will be hit with inheritance tax bills because of a three-year extension from 2015/16 of the freeze in the £325,000 threshold – £650,000 for couples – at which it kicks in at 40%.

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