Social care funding: Lib Dems drop Wanless commitment

The Liberal Democrats have dropped their commitment to provide personal care funding for all eligible older people, two years after abandoning its flagship free personal care policy.

The party today downgraded the proposal to provide a “universal care payment” for all eligible pensioners to an “aspiration” for the duration of the next parliament because the £2.6bn annual price tag was deemed unaffordable.

The policy is, in effect, the partnership model proposed by Derek Wanless in his landmark report on social care for the King’s Fund. Under this, the state would pay for about 80% of service users’ personal care costs, with individuals funding the rest.

Instead of taking a firm funding policy into the next general election, probably in May, the Lib Dems have called for an all-party commission to help reach a consensus on reforming adult social care.

The party said it believed the government’s green paper on funding, produced last July, had been “kicked into the long grass”, despite health secretary Andy Burnham’s pledge last week to produce a white paper before polling day.

In a speech today, party leader Nick Clegg said: “No other party in British politics today has taken such a deliberate step to be open and credible with the British people about what we can and cannot afford.

“And, yes, that means that some multi-billion pound spending commitments we have promoted in the past – like new free childcare entitlements, a new citizen’s pension or free personal care – will no longer be firm commitments in our manifesto, but will be put on hold until they become affordable again.”

The party backed the Wanless proposal in January 2008 when it

dropped its long-standing support for free personal care.

The announcement comes with government legislation to introduce free personal care at home for people with high-level needs due to undergo its final stages in the House of Commons tomorrow (Friday).

The Conservatives have criticised the £670m a year Personal Care at Home Bill as too costly, though neither the Tories nor the Lib Dems have stated whether they will vote against the legislation.

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