The government still intends to produce a white paper on adult care funding reform before the next general election to ensure it becomes a "top order issue" on polling day, health secretary Andy Burnham said yesterday.
However, with the election widely tipped to take place on 6 May, there is no indication as yet of when the white paper - the follow-up to last year's green paper - will be released.
Last year the government pledged to produce the white paper in "early 2010". Burnham told yesterday's final session of the health committee's inquiry into social care: “I want to publish a white paper this side of the general election. I believe social care should feature prominently in the general election.”
But he insisted he did not want to make it an “overtly politicised issue” and that he would welcome discussions with the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to try and reach a consensus.
There had been concerns that the Personal Care at Home Bill, which was published last month and is designed to introduce free personal care at home for people with high needs, would affect the government's planning for the white paper.
Many commentators had warned that its core proposal was at odds with the green paper, which ruled out providing free personal care, funded from general taxation, on grounds of affordability.
Green paper plans
Instead, the green paper proposed making means-tested state contributions to the personal care costs of all eligible users, with individuals funding the rest directly or through voluntary or compulsory insurance schemes.
Burnham accepted that the bill's proposals had changed the cost implications of the green paper. This follows widespread criticism of the government's failure to publish the financial modelling underpinning the green paper before the end of the consultation, which some experts attributed to the bill's proposals.
However, Burnham insisted that the bill was a "building block" towards the green paper's vision of creating a national care service, with a single eligibility threshold for care across the country.
Modelling published with white paper
The modelling, which will set out how much the government's funding proposals will cost over the next 20 years, will be released with the white paper.
No date has been set for publication of the paper. Ipsos Mori is currently going through the 24,000 responses to the consultation on the green paper.
The Department of Health's director general of social care, David Behan, told the committee this analysis will be used to inform the white paper, and would be published “later this year.”
Neither he nor Burnham would reveal any detail about the white paper to the committee.
Burnham did reveal that the government would be beefing up the Care Quality Commission's powers in its dealings with care home providers.
The Personal Care at Home Bill will next be debated in the House of Commons on 12 January.
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