Experts: Free care plan has made green paper incoherent

Social care commentators have warned the government’s pledge to provide free personal home care for users with critical care needs has made its green paper proposals incoherent.

The warnings came at today’s second hearing of the health select committee’s inquiry into adult social care.

The free care pledge was made by prime minister Gordon Brown in late September, two months after the green paper had rejected providing all eligible users with free personal care, funded from general taxation, as unaffordable.

The green paper instead proposed raising money from individuals through compulsory or voluntary insurance schemes, or directly from care users.

Weakened argument

Richard Humphries, senior research fellow in social care for the King’s Fund, told the committee that promising free care at home for users with critical needs had potentially weakened the green paper’s argument against tax funding.

He said: “There’s a lot we don’t know about this proposal and how it fits in with the green paper especially when we were told we couldn’t have free personal care because it was unaffordable.”

James Lloyd, of the Social Market Foundation, echoed these sentiments, adding: “The difficulty for government [in making the free care pledge] is when it’s saying [to people] you’ve got to make some commitment towards meeting your own care costs.”

The committee also interviewed Raphael Wittenberg, of the Personal Social Services Research Unit, which is responsible for producing the financial modelling underpinning the green paper.

Modelling delayed

As Community Care revealed this week, the modelling will not be published until next year despite care services minister Phil Hope saying last month that he would be “disappointing” if it was not released ahead of the closure of the green paper consultation on 13 November.

A coalition of charities has promised to lodge a Freedom of Information request to force the Department of Health to reveal the data.

Wittenberg said: “The department is continuing to commission further modelling and I understand the plan is to publish this in 2010.”

Asked if he could be more accurate on the likely publication date he said he did not know and added: “I can ask my colleagues or you may have to ask the secretary of state.”

Wittenberg had earlier explained that the cost projections were based on variables such as economic recovery, levels of employment and unemployment, average incomes, life expectancy, and levels of informal and formal care.

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