The Liberal Democrats have poured scorn on the government’s plans to introduce free personal care at home for those most in need, outlined in the Queen’s Speech yesterday.
Shadow health secretary Norman Lamb claimed the Personal Care at Home Bill, which the government intends to implement from October 2010, was “the last nail in the coffin of the social care green paper”.
The free care plan, which is expected to cost £670m a year, was announced in September, half-way through a consultation on the government’s green paper on the longer-term funding of adult care.
Lamb said that in taking forward the idea the government was not offering a comprehensive plan as the green paper had sought to do, but opting for a “partial solution”.
He added: “It appears we have wasted a huge amount of time and money on the social care green paper.”
Lamb’s criticisms follow warnings from the King’s Fund that the free care pledge has undermined the argument in the green paper that funding free personal care for all out of general taxation was an unaffordable burden on working people.
Lamb also dismissed the chances of the Personal Care at Home Bill passing into law before the next election. The government has only 70 parliamentary days to progress the legislation through both the Commons and Lords before 10 May 2009, the last day on which Parliament can sit before the next election.
A Conservative Party spokesperson said it had raised concerns about the affordability of the scheme and where the money would come from.
The government has said the Department of Health would provide £420m to implement the plan while the £250m balance would be found from local authority efficiency savings.
Today the Tories launched a campaign to protect disability benefits for pensioners, which the government is considering using to boost social care budgets as part of the green paper.
Asked how the Tories would fund increases in social care funding without drawing on attendance allowance and disability living allowance, Lansley said that it would invest money in preventive services, curbing demand for more intensive care provision.
He also said the party’s plans for people to pay an £8,000 premium to cover the cost of their future residential care would generate “considerable additional funding” for the social care system.
However, Lamb accused both the Conservatives and Labour of “playing political football” with social care rather than offering serious solutions.
The Liberal Democrats restated their support for the partnership model in Derick Wanless’s 2006 report for the King’s Fund on the future funding of care.
Under this, the state would meet about 80% of each individual’s personal care costs, with service users, other than the poorest, funding the rest.