Welsh assembly wobble on free care

Campaigners fear the Welsh assembly government could drop a pre-election pledge to introduce free home care for disabled people in Wales by 2007.

Voluntary groups and opposition politicians have raised concerns about the assembly health department’s lack of progress in developing proposals; a consultation document has failed to materialise more than a year after a working group of charities and local government officials delivered its recommendations.

With assembly elections due in 16 months, some fear legislation will either be rushed or will fall.

The problem centres on the definition of disability. Disability Wales and Age Concern Cymru want all people assessed as needing home care to be classed as disabled and so receive it free. But while this would end the current means-testing system that allows councils to set contribution rates, it would cost an estimated £18m to fund.

Sarah Stone, head of public affairs at Age Concern Cymru, said: “We think they should link free home care to the assessment process. They shouldn’t try and narrow the definition too much as it would over-complicate the policy.”

Assembly health committee chair Rhodri Glyn Thomas said the policy was “definitely on the backburner”.

An assembly government spokesperson said it was looking at eligibility criteria to “ensure consistency and clarity”.

It is considering using a measure called the index of relative need, which has been used by the Scottish executive. Four councils in Wales are assessing how this would work in practice.

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