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