Nick Clegg's right-hand man has expressed scepticism that a voluntary insurance system can solve the funding crisis blighting long-term care.
Norman Lamb, political adviser to the deputy prime minister, was speaking after members of the Dilnot commission into long-term care funding gave strong hints that they would not endorse a system of compulsory insurance.
Lamb, the Liberal Democrats' health spokesman until the general election, said of a voluntary insurance system: "All the evidence that I've seen is that people don't take up that offer - it's the sort of thing people put to the back of their minds."
He continued: "The next three months will be crucial for this area of policy. We have a great opportunity to finally crack this. It will require give and take across the board."
Lamb also issued a plea to the voluntary sector to "demonstrate a realism" that it had not shown befor the election.
"The voluntary sector has to understand that [the funding solution] has to be politically sellable to the public as well as deliverable for what it wants to do," he said.
Lamb made his comments to a seminar run by Policy Review TV and the insurance company Partnership.
Dilnot commission member Lord Warner, a former Labour health minister, said the concept of compulsion "doesn't feel to me as though it fits the public mood music at the moment, or the mood music for the foreseeable future".
He spoke at a time ministers are keen to avoid talking about care funding for fear of prejudicing Dilnot. As the non-minister closest to Clegg, the comments of Lamb may serve as a pointer to the deputy prime minister's views.
Scepticism of the voluntary system was also expressed by Richard Humphries, senior fellow in social care at the King's Fund.
"There's a need in the short-term for a compulsory levy - the system needs some short-term resources," he said. "It's difficult to see how that [money] could be generated through a voluntary system."
Lamb also spoke in markedly different terms from his party colleague, care services minister Paul Burstow, over the scale of the difficulties facing councils.
"We are witnessing a potential crisis - a deterioration now because of the tight financial circumstances," Lamb said of the social care sector.
"The government has put in an extra £2bn into social care but it's not ring-fenced. It means councils across the country are making difficult judgements."
Burstow said in November that there was
"no justification" for councils to slash services.
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