Sector awaits impact of government shake-up

Adult social care
Liam Byrne became MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill last July, aged 33
and with a city slicker’s CV encompassing management consultancy
and banking.

As community care minister he will lead the biggest reform of adult
social care in a generation, with a white paper due this autumn to
follow March’s green paper.

Byrne is an associate fellow at think-tank the Social Market
Foundation, and his published papers betray a Blairite commitment
to public service modernisation through private sector involvement
and consumer choice.

But will he be able to put public sector reform into practice or
get to grips with the social care brief?

Byrne seems to have recognised he is on a learning curve. He has
already made contact with the Association of Directors of Social
Services and has spoken to Commission for Social Care Inspection
chief inspector David Behan.

The charm offensive has been well received. CSCI chair Dame Denise
Platt says: “I think it’s fantastic to be working with someone
who’s excited about the portfolio. We’ve picked up a genuine
enthusiasm from him.”

Few seem worried by his inexperience. John Knight, head of policy
at disability care charity Leonard Cheshire, says: “Some people may
think there’s a danger in that. I’m comforted by the fact that
there are able officials in the position to support Liam.”

This is particularly important given that his predecessor, Stephen
Ladyman, is so closely associated with the green paper reforms and
displayed a powerful commitment to the sector.

The green paper is not the only item in Byrne’s in-tray.

Platt wants an early indication that he will pursue Ladyman’s
commitment to reviewing the national minimum standards for care
providers, which the CSCI views as a brake on its plans for
user-focused regulation.

The government’s decision to leave social care as the
responsibility of a parliamentary under-secretary – the lowest rung
of the ministerial ladder – is testament to its low status.

However, Byrne may be working under a more pro-social care regime
than Ladyman, given Patricia Hewitt’s appointment as health
secretary, replacing John Reid.

Reid failed to develop a relationship with the sector during his
two years in charge, leaving it to Ladyman. And many echo the view
expressed by one commentator that “Hewitt has a better grasp of
social care than John Reid did”.

Changes have also been afoot at the Department for
Work and Pensions, notably with the return of David Blunkett to the
cabinet, but also with Maria Eagle’s replacement, Anne McGuire, as
disability minister.

Disability charities are ambivalent about the government’s
programme for disabled people.

The prime minister’s strategy unit paper, Improving the Life
Chances of Disabled People, was warmly received with its promise of
empowerment through personalised budgets.

But the government’s plans to reform incapacity benefit, which
looks set to be included in a welfare reform green paper next
month, have raised concerns.

Knight says Alan Johnson, during his brief tenure as work and
pensions secretary, thrashed out a compromise between the
government’s desire to get more people into work and the needs of
disabled people.

This involved plans to give more money to severely disabled people,
through a new disability and sickness allowance and financial
incentives for other incapacity benefit recipients to seek

However, since his appointment Blunkett has hinted that the
government may be looking to adopt a tougher line.

Knight warns: “My strong advice to Blunkett is to concentrate on
pensions. Johnson did a superb job in coming up with a workable
solution on incapacity benefit. We know [Blunkett’s] a tough
politician. He doesn’t need to use disabled people to demonstrate

But Knight suggests that the government, with a majority slashed to
67 seats, will struggle to force through draconian reforms.

Mental health
The last parliamentary session closed with a critical
report on the draft Mental Health Bill by the committee set up to
scrutinise it, which warned many people could be forced into
treatment unnecessarily.

Crucially, it called on the government to introduce two pieces of
legislation: a public protection bill covering the minority of
mental health patients with untreatable personality disorders; and
a broader therapeutically oriented bill.

A spokesperson at the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, says:
“One of the key signals will be whether they have taken this on

He adds: “They’ve done the right thing in setting up that committee
and the logical conclusion would be to take on board a lot of what
was in that report and come up with laws that can garner more

Rosie Winterton will hang on to the mental health brief as a
minister of state at the DoH, something the Sainsbury Centre

Housing is destined to be a strong theme in Labour’s
third term but there remain fears that the government’s emphasis on
increasing home ownership will come at the expense of investment in
social housing.

It is unclear what the effect will be of plans to increase social
home-building by 50 per cent yet give housing association tenants
the right to buy up to 75 per cent of their homes.

Resolving this tension will be a key task for housing minister
Yvette Cooper, who has been promoted to minister of state from the
Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

Shelter director Adam Sampson says: “We hope this new team will
resolve that in favour of [increased social housing], which surely
must be a more pressing social problem.”

Labour’s manifesto failed to mention homelessness, despite a pledge
in the government’s five-year housing plan to halve the number of
people in temporary accommodation by 2010 and evidence of a 123 per
cent increase in homelessness since 1997.

Sampson warns: “A strategy to help those in greatest need is at
least as important as a commitment to get people on to the property

Despite the changes, this tension between helping those in need and
the concerns of Middle England looks set to manifest itself again
in Labour’s third term.

Local results
The Conservatives strengthened their position in the
Local Government Association after taking control of seven councils
in the local elections.

The results give them provisional control of 37.8 per cent of the
LGA, up from 35.8 per cent. Labour has 33.2 per cent, down from
34.8 per cent.

However, the result is likely to make little difference to the
politics of the association, particularly in social care.

The two parties are expected to retain equal representation on the
children and young people and community well-being boards, which
cover children’s and adult services respectively, with the Tories
gaining two seats from Labour on other boards.

LGA chair Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, the Tory leader of Kent
Council, is keen for the association to retain its cross-party
focus and pursue a dialogue with government.

The Conservatives took control of Northamptonshire Council from
Labour and also took power in the formerly hung councils of
Gloucestershire, Isle of Wight, Oxfordshire, Shropshire, Suffolk
and Worcestershire. Labour had a better night in the four mayoral
elections, winning North Tyneside from the Tories and
Stoke-on-Trent from an independent.

The Liberal Democrats won Cornwall, Devon and Somerset councils and
are expected to boost their representation in the LGA from 21.9 to
22.4 per cent.

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