The government’s Personal Care at Home Bill received its third reading unopposed, but must now secure the backing of the House of Lords if it is to become law before the general election, which must happen by 3 June and is tipped to take place on 6 May.
Costs and benefits
The legislation would benefit an estimated 111,000 people who now pay for care privately or are charged by councils and would also give people entering the care system access to six weeks’ re-ablement support to help reduce their need for care, benefiting an estimated 130,000 people a year. It would cost an estimated £670m a year – £420m of which would be funded by the Department of Health with councils expected to find the rest through efficiency savings.
Following a government motion – opposed by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats – MPs were given just one day to both debate the details of the bill and vote on its third reading. Typically bills are passed to a committee of MPs for debate over a period of days.
Tory amendments defeated
The Tories raised several amendments to the legislation, a number of which were pushed to a vote during yesterday’s debate. However, the government used its majority to defeat the amendments and the Tories and Lib Dems declined to oppose the bill’s third reading.
But with the election looming and both opposition parties disgruntled about elements of the bill, the legislation could run up against problems in the Lords, where the government does not have an overall majority and some of its own members have voiced opposition to the plans.
Labour peers opposed
These include former health minister Lord Warner and Lord Lipsey, a member of the Royal Commission on Long Term Care for the Elderly, which reported in 1999.
The proposals have been criticised more widely: by local authorities, who fear that the costs to them have been underestimated; and by sector leaders, who feel that the proposals conflict with the government’s green paper on the long-term reform of care funding.
The latter ruled out providing free personal care more generally, funded from general taxation, on the basis that it would be unaffordable and place an unfair burden on working-age people.
Instead it proposed part-funding personal care costs for all users and expecting individuals – except the poorest – to find the rest, either directly or through insurance schemes. The government has pledged to publish a white paper with firmer proposals for reform before the election.