Disability groups condemn Welsh government’s U-turn on free care

The Welsh assembly government has ditched its manifesto pledge of free home care for disabled people because it claims it cannot afford to pay for the policy.

Disability campaigners and opposition politicians, who warned of a U-turn last month, have condemned the move.

In place of the 2003 Labour manifesto pledge, health and social services minister Dr Brian Gibbons unveiled a £76m package of support for older people, disabled people and carers over the next two years.

But Jonathan Morgan, the Conservative health and social services spokesperson, said the extra support would be of “little comfort to disabled people who were looking forward to free home care”.

Alison Goldsworthy, policy and campaigns officer at disability charity Leonard Cheshire, said: “This pledge would have represented a real opportunity to work towards alleviating disabled people’s poverty. Reneging on it will only lead to more disabled people existing on or below the breadline.”

Sarah Stone, head of public affairs at Age Concern Cymru, was “appalled” by the decision, saying it would leave many people living on the edge of poverty.

Gibbons said he was unable to implement the policy because independent research into the cost of implementing it, by Professor David Bell of Stirling University, suggested it would become too expensive.

“Bell’s report identifies the potential for a substantial growth in costs, as demand rises when services are free, ranging from £46m to £79m a year. It would quickly become unsustainable.”

However, some opposition assembly members pointed to the findings of a recent Joseph Rowntree Foundation report which found free personal care for older people in Scotland was largely cost-neutral.

The new package includes increasing the margin above income support before people become eligible for home care charges, £3m to support carers of people with mental health problems, £12.5m of capital funding for community equipment and £9m to develop telecare services.

Gibbons said this amounted to more money than the government had originally intended to spend under the free care policy, while it would also review councils’ home care charging policies.


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