My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The two systems are coming together. With the introduction of direct payments, we have seen council support beginning to replicate the benefits system, and the two systems have been slowly merging. Reform would continue and deepen that process, placing individuals with the most need in control of their budget so that they can draw down the support and care that they need. My right hon. Friend is quite right to make that point.
Every citizen would stand to benefit under that new system. As well as helping people who need care, the national care service is about changing the lives of the friends and relations who support them. Many carers in this country have told us about the daily battle they face to get the support that they need, and we want to end that battle by providing a reliable, transparent and accessible system that makes it easier for them to manage their responsibilities. We intend to publish a White Paper in the new year, setting out our proposals for the future of care and support, based on the replies that we have received to our consultation.
I turn now to disability benefits. The current care and support system is provided through a combination of local and central Government funding, personal contributions and benefits. It is complicated, it is not clearly targeted at levels of greatest need and it is not sustainable. In each case, the amounts are increasing. Local government expenditure on adult social care has gone up by more than 50 per cent. since 1997; and the total fees paid by people who use the services have increased significantly over the same period. Today, there are more than 1.5 million recipients of attendance allowance, amounting to expenditure of more than £5 billion a year; and there are more than 790,000 disability living allowance recipients who are over 65 years old, totalling expenditure of some £4 billion a year.
By 2026, we can expect that 1.7 million more adults will need care and support than is the case today, and the cost of disability benefits for the elderly could rise by almost 50 per cent. in real terms. Demographic and financial pressures on that scale cannot easily be met within the current unreformed system, so we have to find a better way to provide support to older and disabled people, and there may be a case for bringing together some disability benefits within adult social care. That is the argument that we are putting forward.
The Opposition's motion refers to people who currently receive disability benefits but are not eligible for social care, and it is true that many people today do not get help from the state towards their care costs. However, that is precisely why this Government are showing leadership and looking at how we can best support care and reform services. As I said in my intervention, it is completely wrong to suggest that all those who currently receive disability benefits but do not receive support from social care services would lose out under a new system. The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire made a big point of stating that he did not say that, but I am afraid that anybody who has picked up a Conservative party leaflet or a local newspaper recently will have been given a different impression from that which he has given the House this afternoon. He says one thing here and his party's parliamentary candidates say quite another in constituencies throughout the country. If he is serious about this debate, he must get his story straight now. He needs to say here-at that Dispatch Box-the same thing as his candidates say throughout the country. I am afraid that he has been found out today, and he was very helpfully smoked out by Steve Webb.
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