Ministers urged to back care review
The man heading the Government's review of the social care system has appealed to ministers not to ignore his blueprint for reform and kick it "into the long grass".
Economist Andrew Dilnot said that his commission's report - due to be published next week - represented a "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity to change a system that was broken.
His intervention came after Health Minister Paul Burstow warned that reaction to the report - which says that "all but the poorest" will have to fund their own care - may be "lukewarm at best".
Writing in The Times, Mr Dilnot said that the need for fundamental change was "urgent" if growing numbers of elderly people were not to suffer.
"Social care must be about more than just keeping people barely alive," he wrote. "It's about helping people to be part of the community, giving them greater peace of mind and opportunities to lead fulfilling lives. To ignore this problem any longer is to dismiss people's rights to all these things.
"We have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to fix this. We must not allow this to become yet another attempt at change that gets kicked into the long grass. If we do, it is the most vulnerable in our society who will suffer."
Mr Dilnot was appointed by ministers to draw up plans for a new system in July last year, as part of the agreement struck between the Tories and Liberal Democrats.
Under the current arrangements anyone with assets of £23,250 or more is not entitled to any state help with the cost of a care home place. Thousands are forced to sell their homes every year as a result.
The commission is expected to recommend a more generous means test for social care, and a "care cap" of around £50,000 before the state steps in to pick up costs.
However, speaking to healthcare experts at the King's Fund think tank, Mr Burstow made clear its proposals came "with a price tag" and that it would be the "last word" on the issue. "If funding reform is to be secured during this Parliament it will require give and take," he said. "It demands recognition of the times we are in, and the fact that the deficit casts a long shadow."