Free personal care bill facing certain delay

Gordon Brown’s Personal Care at Home Bill is facing delay and, possibly, extinction, according to a leading critic.

Labour peer Lord Lipsey warned that hostility had grown to the extent that when it reaches report stage on 8 March the government could lose amendments on procedure and timing that will ensure it will not become law before the general election.

The effect would be that an incoming government would have to decide whether or not to implement the bill so its future requires a Labour majority at the next election.

Lipsey said: “I’m totally confident that some or all [of the amendments] will carry,” adding “anyone who has been misled by the government’s proposals into thinking that from October their care at home costs would be paid for I think are in for a massive disappointment.”

The danger for the government is that now the Liberal Democrats actively oppose the bill, many cross-benchers have become “offended by the government’s attempt to treat” the bill as emergency legislation, and many Labour peers oppose it, while many Tories are unhappy with the legislation.

Labour holds only 211 of the 706 seats in the Lords and the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives between them hold 261 seats, though it is not clear what the Tories will do now. They have previously said they would not oppose the bill.

If the amendments are carried there will be a third reading in the House of Lords and it will then return to the House of Commons, which could reject the amendments. But with timing tight, Lipsey believes the government will be forced to offer concessions in order to preserve the bill.

Under the bill, about 270,000 people would benefit from free care at home, including 110,000 who now pay for services, out of an estimated 1.8 million care users in England.

The bill’s other measure – to provide reablement services to people entering the care system – would benefit an estimated 130,000 people a year.

To fund the legislation, local authorities will be expected to find £250m a year in efficiency savings – alongside £420m from the Department of Health.

Lipsey was a member of the Royal Commission on Long Term Care for the Elderly, which reported in 1999, but wrote a minority report opposing its call to introduce tax-funded free personal care.

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