Phil Hope sets out Labour’s pre-election stall on adult care

Care services minister Phil Hope has reiterated the need for change in the way adult social care is funded, as the Department of Health continues its series of roadshows on the green paper.

In an interview with Community Care, Hope said there had been an “overwhelming response” at all the regional events held so far, underlining the concern felt about social care funding, as care “touches everyone’s lives”.

The government is holding a series of public and stakeholder events as part of a “big care debate” on the future funding of adult social care and the proposals in the green paper, published in July.

National care service

These include the creation of a national care service, with standard eligibility criteria across the country, some state funding to cover the personal care costs of all eligible users, and three funding options to pay the remainder of the costs.

Hope admitted it had stirred up interest, adding: “Everywhere I’ve been people have been thoroughly engaged. There’s an appetite for change. There’s a big choice [to be made] and the government wants people to understand about a national care service.

“I’ve been remarkably pleased at the level of interest and the level of emotional commitment.”

Big changes planned

The debate comes with the government pushing ahead with a number of big reforms to adult social care. It is halfway through the three-year Putting People First agenda to personalise care services across England, and planning to publish a mental health strategy and a first-ever strategy for adults with autism.

With a general election due by next June and the government running far behind the Conservatives in the polls, there are doubts over how much of this agenda will be implemented.

The Tories are longstanding supporters of personalisation, but are yet to issue a policy on social care funding and dismissed the green paper as too little too late from Labour, given the government’s promise to reform the system on taking office in 1997.

‘Big choices’

Hope said: “As we get closer to the election it’s about the big choices…People will recognise there’s a choice. I know that the choice we are offering people is one they will welcome. On this issue I believe we’ve got to make big choices that people will support.

“It’s personalisation, it’s about support for the most vulnerable, it’s about providing a lead.” It was he said a “radical strategy” to make “our country a better place to live in”. 

Personalisation on course

Hope said he was pleased with progress on personalisation and said that he was confident that by next year there would be more than 200,000 people with personal budgets, up from 93,000 in March this year.

However, concerns have been raised that some councils are lagging behind the rest, leading to the publication this month of a set of “milestones” to benchmark progress by the DH, Local Government Association and Association of Directors of Adult Social Services.

Hope said that councils were buying into the agenda with several already having adopted national indicators on personalisation into their local area agreements, which define top priorities for local areas.

“It’s an approach that everyone is recognising and we are driving forward with guidance and good practice and extra money,” he said and pointed to West Sussex as a standard bearer for this approach.

He wants to see it go “further and faster” so that all adults in some form of care receive personal budgets.

Autism strategy – little hope of new money

Hope dampened expectations of new funding to implement the government’s first autism strategy for adults in England, following the end of the consultation last week.

He spoke of reshaping and targeting existing resources but said it would not be “possible for me to say if there might be additional funding”.

The National Audit Office (NAO) and the National Autistic Society have underlined the need for additional investment in multi-disciplinary specialist support for adults with autism.

In a report this year, the NAO calculated this would cost an extra £40m a year but over time this could be outweighed by public expenditure savings.

‘Lot of existing money’

Hope said: “Clearly we are talking about taking a lot of existing money and asking how that huge amount of money being spent on the health service, on local government services is spent in a way that helps people with autism. It’s not just applying money on top. It’s about reshaping services to make them meet the needs of those people.”

Hope outlined some of the work the Department of Health would take forward on the back of the 20-week consultation, which received more than 1,000 responses.

This includes an awareness-raising campaign about autism among frontline professionals who come into contact with people with the condition. 

He said the DH would also emphasise the need for early identification of adults with autism to allow for early care and support, amid concerns that service users are receiving late or misleading diagnoses, thereby denying them support.

Autism Bill

Hope also stressed the importance of the Autism Bill, which is designed to enforce the strategy, in ensuring primary care trusts and local authorities improve support for autistic adults.

It is is due to receive its final reading in the House of Lords next month, having passed through the Commons.

In its response to the consultation, the National Autistic Society called for a senior civil servant to take responsibility for autism policy nationally, underpinned by regional lead officials and specialist teams in every local authority area.

It also called on the DH to establish national performance indicators on adults with autism and said the Care Quality Commission should carry out a review of the implementation of the strategy on its first anniversary.

Related stories

Personalisation: Councils given benchmarks on progress

Campaigners say no to green paper’s proposal for attendance allowance

Health and council chiefs set the pace for Putting People First

Personalisation milestones

DH official says far-reaching reform necessary on adult care


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