Lipsey: ‘Headlong rush’ of free care bill will be broken

Opponents of the Personal Care at Home Bill are working on plans that could “break” its “headlong rush” into law.

That was the message from Labour peer Lord Lipsey, one of the bill’s chief critics, after it passed its second reading in the House of Lords yesterday.

The bill will enter its committee stage on 22 February. Although Lipsey would not elaborate on his plans, he said he would be “confident of passing amendments…which will break the headlong rush of Gordon Brown’s gimmick into law”.

Another critic – former health minister Lord Warner – told Community Care that it was “far from a foregone conclusion” that the government would be able to implement the legislation by its target date of 1 October. This will require the bill to pass and for Parliament to also approve regulations to implement it.

Separately, the Local Government Association is planning to push for a series of amendments at committee stage, including measures to cap local authority costs at £250m a year and a delay on the bill’s implementation until April 2011.

These reflect widespread concern that the government’s £250m estimate on running costs is too low.

A survey released at the weekend by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services found that councils calculated the cost of providing free care at home for people with high needs at about £200 a week on average – double the government’s estimates.

Yesterday evening, Tory and Liberal Democrat peers abstained as critics lost a vote by 105 votes to 23. If the vote had gone the other way, the bill would have been delayed until the government had provided more information on how the bill would be implemented.

During the second reading, the bill was savaged by its critics.

Former Labour health minister Lord Warner said: “[The bill] is a political gimmick that the government are trying to ram through parliament before an election without proper scrutiny of what it will result in.”

Lipsey said the bill may be the worst piece of legislation he had seen in his 38 years in and around Westminster. “I ask the government, if they have a shred of honesty left about them any more, to come clean about the cuts that will follow from this bill and not pretend that, somehow or other, the money that Gordon Brown wants will drop from this tree in the Department of Health.”

However, Labour peer Baroness Wilkins said she welomed the government’s “intention to support severely disabled people to remain living in their own homes”.

For the government, Baroness Thornton defended the costings as based on an independent analysis by the Personal Social Services Research Unit.

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