Conservative leader David Cameron today accused Gordon Brown of constructing a “cheap dividing line before an election” as the pair clashed over social care reform during Prime Minister’s Questions.
Cameron turned up the heat on Brown as he sought to portray the Personal Care at Home Bill as under-funded, unclear and unpopular among “so many of the people responsible for delivering the policy”.
Cameron raised the issue after more than 70 councillors with responsibility for adult social care condemned the plan to introduce free care at home for people with high needs, in an open letter published in The Times.
Cameron said it was a policy designed purely for electoral value. “This isn’t about the benefit of the elderly but the benefit of the Labour Party,” the Conservative Party leader said.
However, Brown accused the opposition of conducting an “orchestrated campaign” against the bill.
He said the government was “passionately committed to finding a better way of ensuring security and dignity for the elderly in our generation in retirement”.
The bill has cleared the House of Commons and will have its committee stage in the Lords on 22 February, where the legislation will be scrutinised in detail.
The clash follows a row yesterday between the two parties over reports – denied by the government – that it may introduce a compulsory £20,000 flat rate charge on people’s estates to fund care, which the Tories labelled a “death tax”.
In today’s exchanges, Cameron encouraged Brown to rule out any form of compulsory levy, which the prime minister refused to do before the white paper on long-term funding reform is published.
The political row was condemned by charities Carers UK and Age Concern and Help the Aged.
Carers UK chief executive Imelda Redmond directly criticised the Tories’ use of a gravestone in its “death tax” attack on the government.
“This crucial debate must not be drowned out by media soundbites and electioneering,” Redmond said. “It is particularly disappointing to see these difficult issues reduced to slogans and posters, and for care of older people to be associated with negative images of gravestones.”
Michelle Miller, Age Concern and Help the Aged’s charity director, said social care reform should not become a “political football” and called for the parties to devise “long-term solutions”.