Tories attacked for no-show at social care reform meeting

The Conservatives have been criticised after their refusal to appear at a crunch meeting on the reform of adult social care today, which has led to agreement on a set of principles for reform.

Experts said they were “disappointed” at the opposition’s decision not to appear following the row between the three political parties over how to pay for care.

Following the meeting social care leaders called for politicians to achieve consensus as soon as possible after the election and agreed a broad set of principles on which care and support organisations and local government are able to agree.

Key among these, which could cause a problem for the Conservative Party, was a broad agreement for the comprehensive funding proposal, involving an element of compulsion. This would involve everyone aged over 65 contributing to the costs of care, regardless of whether they ended up needing services.

The Tories refused to attend because the government would not rule out introducing a form of compulsory levy on people’s estates, which the Conservatives have dubbed a “death tax”. They favour a voluntary scheme and have argued that the talks were political ploy.

The meeting, which was attended by more than 50 representatives of care and support organisations and local government, was called for by health secretary Andy Burnham after a fortnight of rows between the parties.

Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Norman Lamb and care services minister Phil Hope both joined Burnham at the meeting.

Afterwards leading players said the Tories needed to “reflect” on the fact that consensus was largely reached among groups, though not on the details.

Stephen Burke, chief executive of Counsel and Care, said: “It’s a pity the Tories weren’t represented at the event and we do need consensus on the way forward. There are hard decisions to be made and a white paper [to come] and consensus-building is critical.”

Jenny Owen, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, said she was disappointed because there needed to be cross-party support.

Her comments were echoed by Imelda Redmond, chief executive of Carers UK. But she said: “Building a care system that is fit for purpose will not come cheap. We all need to face up to difficult decisions about who pays. We call on all political parties to put party differences aside and focus on delivering a care system that is fair, flexible and sustainable in the longer term. To achieve this, social care needs to be an issue of consensus not a source of political point scoring.”

Richard Humphries, senior fellow at The King’s Fund, said: “The onus is now on the political parties to reach cross-party agreement on the key elements of reform as soon as possible.”

Burnham said: “What people may not realise is that, for all the sound and fury of recent days, there is a good degree more consensus across political parties and the care world than people may realise.

“We now need to build on the points of agreement, and the recognition that leaving things as they are is not an option, to bring forward firm proposals for change.”

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said: “We have been clear about our choices. We will create a partnership between the state and families; we will give people the option of a voluntary insurance scheme to protect their homes; we will retain cash disability benefits and we will boost preventive support to help elderly people maintain their independence.”

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