The Liberal Democrats today dropped their longstanding support for free personal care for older people and backed Derek Wanless’ blueprint for sharing costs between the state and individuals.
In a report on healthcare policy, the party joined the Conservatives in backing the partnership model proposed by Wanless in his landmark report for the King’s Fund in March 2006.
This involves the state paying a proportion of older people’s personal care packages and match funding individual contributions up to the full cost, with poorer people having their contributions met through the benefits system.
As part of a £2bn care guarantee, the Lib Dems also promised more support for carers, giving them a statutory right to be “partners in care”.
However, the proposals on care funding would only be extended to people under 65 if this was deemed viable over the long-term.
No to free personal care
The policy paper said that although the Scottish model of free personal care, which the party helped introduce, was fairer, there were concerns about its sustainability and limitations. The Scottish Executive has commissioned a review of the system which is due to report in March.
Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said today: “We are the first party with serious plans to end the punishing poverty which afflicts the many elderly people forced to pay for their personal care entirely out of their own pockets. It simply isn’t possible to be committed to a free and fair NHS without ending this scandalous injustice.”
The party also moved away from its previous support for councils taking responsibility from primary care trusts for commissioning health services. While this model would be available, if backed in a local referendum, more widely the paper called for PCTs to have directly elected boards. However, to promote integration between health and social care it called for a duty on councils and PCTs to pool budgets and commission jointly.
Need for reform
Campaigners broadly welcomed the proposals.
Gordon Lishman, director-general of Age Concern, said: “The Liberal Democrats’ pledge for minimum standards in care services and the money to support those services is very welcome. It puts those who need care and their unpaid carers at the centre of care reform. Fundamental reform of the care system is urgently needed. The way that the care system is funded must be made fairer, care quality must be improved and care should be available where and when it is needed.”
Imelda Redmond, chief executive of Carers UK, applauded the pledge to give carers legal status as partners in care.
She added: “The vast majority of care for elderly and disabled people is provided by families – a contribution worth £87 billion each year – yet too often their opinions and wishes are ignored by professionals. They should be recognised as the experts and involved at all stages of care.”