Homes of elderly should be used to fund social care, NHS head says

Laura Donnelly
Simon Stevens said older people were in a “relatively advantaged position” compared to younger generations - PA

Pensioners’ homes should be used to fund social care instead of major tax rises on those of working age, the head of the NHS has said.

Simon Stevens said the “accumulated housing wealth” held by older generations should be used to pay for their care, saying they were in a “relatively advantaged position” compared to younger generations.

The comments to MPs are set to spark a fierce political debate about how to tackle a growing crisis in elderly care.

Last year Theresa May’s manifesto pledge to make pensioners pay more towards the cost of social care was swiftly dubbed a “dementia tax” because it would hit sufferers living at home while those with other illnesses would receive hospital care.

Mr Stevens said on Tuesday afternoon the assets of the elderly - including their homes - should be used to fund their care, backing schemes which allow councils to reclaim care costs from the sale of pensioners’ property.

The Government is due to publish a green paper on social care this spring, which will consider how best to fund care for an ageing population. The Prime Minister is also expected to announce a funding increase for the NHS, as part of a long-term funding plan.

Why is the NHS under so much pressure?

Mr Stevens told a House of Commons inquiry: “I think there are big questions about intergenerational fairness and what the right way to raise resources is, given the relatively advantaged position of my parents’ generation relative to my children’s generation.”

Highlighting the £1.5 trillion “accumulated housing wealth” held by those in retirement, he suggested any “sustainable” solution would make use of such assets.

Allowing pensioners to keep the value of their homes would be “a difficult argument to win,” he said, particularly if the alternative meant an “unbalanced” increase in taxes for working-age adults.

The NHS is seeking solutions to help pay for social care Credit: Chris Ryan/Caiaimage

“Where people have got resources then that needs to form part of the funding answer,” he said.  

And the NHS chief said schemes of deferred payment - which mean councils fund care, and claim back costs from the estate of the deceased - should be used far more widely to become “part of the answer” to future funding.

Mr Stevens comments came during an inquiry by the Commons’ Housing, Communities and Local Government and Health and Social Care committees, into long-term funding of adult social care.

It comes a month after Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Brits will face a cap on “punitive” social care costs.

The head of the NHS said lack of social care and delays accessing services were now wiping out swathes of NHS capacity - the equivalent of 36 hospitals on any one day.

Latest figures show around 18,000 hospital beds filled by patients stuck in hospital for at least three weeks, often without medical need, he said. “A lot of that is attributable to difficulties getting discharged and the social care support that people needs. That is the equivalent of having 36 of our acute hospitals out of action.”

The comments come amid argument about whether any future funding increases for the NHS should come via an ear-marked tax.

Mr Stevens signalled some enthusiasm for such a course of action, saying it was important to “connect for the public the money they are paying with the service they're getting”.

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