Milburn announces major reforms and investment for older people

The government is injecting £1bn a year into older people’s
services to improve choice, increase independence, and tackle bed-blocking,
health secretary Alan Milburn told the House of Commons this week.

At the heart of the
reforms are plans to give all older people the choice of direct payments to
enable them to pay for their own care.

"We will make
it an obligation on every local authority to offer older people access to
direct payments," Milburn said. "I believe this reform will empower
older people, their families and their carers in a way that has never been
possible before."

Policy officer for
Help the Aged Gail Elkington welcomed the move but said she doubted whether
direct payments would have a particularly high take-up rate.

Milburn also
promised faster access to services. By the end of 2004, all assessments will
begin within 48 hours of first contact and will be completed within a month.
All equipment needed will be in place within a week.

In addition, local
authorities will be given more money to pay higher fees to care homes; £70m
will be made available to train social care staff; and the carers’ grant will
be doubled to £185m by 2006. There will be twice as many people receiving
intensive help at home and a 50 per cent increase in the number of very
sheltered housing places compared with 1997 levels.

Milburn also
promised to legislate to make 70,000 additional rehabilitation packages and all
other intermediate care services free, whether provided by health or social

The extra funding is
the detail behind the chancellor’s budget pledge in April to invest an extra 6
per cent a year into social services for the next 3 years. Milburn described
older people as the "principal beneficiaries" of the extra funding –
although health minister Jacqui Smith confirmed that announcements on funding
for children’s services would come later this year.

By the end of 2002,
two-thirds of the new money for older people’s services will be ring-fenced,
and given to councils as part of their standard spending assessment. The
independent Commission for Social Care Inspection will start operating in
shadow form by the end of the year so that it can gauge how these extra
resources are being used.

Milburn gave no
details on how fines for social services that failed to meet delayed transfer
targets would work, but said they would be introduced next April.

Finally, he
announced a u-turn over mandatory standards for sizes of rooms and doorways for
care homes. Smith added that homes would instead be expected to spell out to
clients whether they met the new standards or not.

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