Tories attack government ‘complacency’ on care funding

The Conservatives’ adult social care spokesperson yesterday attacked the government for “dithering” over the future funding of care but failed to outline a Tory policy on the issue.

Speaking at the National Children and Adult Services Conference, shadow health minister Stephen O’Brien accused the government of “complacency” in failing to reform the adult care funding system during 11 years in power.

Looking ahead to next year’s promised green paper on the issue, he said: “I’m disappointed that the government is continuing to drag their feet through the long grass to a green paper that follows God knows how many papers of whatever colour and description.”

He urged Phil Hope, the recently-appointed minister of state for care services, to publish the green paper – expected next spring – as soon as possible and ensure it led swiftly to reform.

O’Brien said while the government had backed the need for a party political consensus on the issue, neither he nor shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley had been invited to speak to ministers on the subject.

At the same conference last year, Lansley voiced Conservative support for the partnership model put forward by Derek Wanless in his landmark 2006 report for the King’s Fund on the future funding of care for older people .

Under this plan, the state would pay just over 80% of the personal care costs of everyone in need, with individuals – apart from the poorest – contributing the rest.

But yesterday O’Brien said that while the Conservatives had long backed a “partnership approach” to funding between the state and the individual, they were still considering their options.

He said: “Recognising the findings in the King’s Fund review we are considering the range of partnership approaches including providing a minimum guarantee with means-testing above that.”

In criticising the government’s record on care funding, O’Brien repeatedly cited the pressure on older people to sell their homes to pay for care.

He was later asked by Heather Honour, director of the Learning Disability Coalition, about the Tories’ approach to funding for people with life-long conditions, such as those with learning disabilities, who would mostly be unable to rely on private wealth to pay for care.

O’Brien claimed the tightening of eligibility criteria had largely concentrated care funding in England on people with severe life-long conditions, though admitted people with moderate learning disabilities were often excluded.

But on the Conservatives’ position on funding, he added: “It’s part of the ongoing negotiation; it’s not an answer that can be given today.”

O’Brien also urged the government to roll-out individual budgets following this week’s evaluation of the 13-council pilot programme.

But when asked about the Tories’ position on funding a roll-out, he said: “Ultimately finding the money has to be a proposal made by the government of the day. Otherwise you get into the sterile debate about Gordon Brown accusing us of making unfunded promises.”

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