Burnham hints white paper will back compulsory care levy

Health secretary Andy Burnham has strongly suggested the forthcoming adult white paper will back a compulsory levy to fund care as he talked up the idea in a debate with his Tory and Lib Dem opposite numbers yesterday.

In a debate hosted by Channel 4 News and Help the Aged and Age Concern, Burnham stressed he was still “debating the options” but repeatedly stressed the advantages of a compulsory levy over a voluntary insurance model, both of which were included in last year’s green paper on funding reform.

The white paper is expected to be published around the time of the Budget on 24 March.

Burnham said a compulsory scheme would be cheaper – because everyone over retirement age would contribute – and added: “If a voluntary option is not affordable to my constituents, then it’s not an option.”

Burnham also said that a compulsory scheme would provide people with “peace of mind” by making both costs and eligibility for care predictable. He also said that by effectively making care free at the point of delivery and need it would bring social care in line with the NHS, potentially overcoming barriers between the two.

Coinciding with yesterday’s debate, the Department of Health published a report on its own summit last month on the future funding of care, which was attended by social care leaders and experts and found majority backing for the comprehensive option proposed in last year’s green paper, based on a compulsory levy.

The health secretary also said the government was considering a model in which people would face a 10% charge on their estates to pay for care after death, though ministers are believed to be considering other ways of implementing a comprehensive system.

However, in a speech to open yesterday’s debate, Burnham admitted there were downsides to the comprehensive model – that it would “take choice away from the individual”.

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley told yesterday’s debate that the Tories remained steadfastly opposed to a compulsory option, saying it would deter people from caring for loved-ones by applying a charge to everyone, bar the poorest.

He said: “You go down the compulsory route and family and informal care will be completely undermined.”

Lib Dem shadow health secretary Norman Lamb, who also voiced his backing for a compulsory levy over a voluntary one, ended yesterday’s debate by calling on Burnham and Lansley to agree to set up a cross-party process after the election to forge a solution within a year, an offer the health secretary accepted.

However, Lansley refused, saying any discussions “cannot be on the basis of a compulsory tax option because that is not sustainable”.

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