The public should be asked whether it supports full tax funding for adult social care, rather than have the option closed off by government, an influential cross-party group of MPs said today.
In a wide-ranging report on social care, the health select committee said ministers were wrong to rule out a tax-funded option for future funding of care in the government’s green paper last year, given the widespread support it heard for the idea from stakeholders.
The committee’s report, which follows an intense month of political debate on how care should be funded, called for an end to inter-party squabbling on the issue, warning that consensus on the details of reforms must be achieved early in the new Parliament before political capital is spent.
Issue ‘should not be election football’
Committee chair Kevin Barron said: “We don’t want this issue to be turned into an election football for it to be kicked back into the long grass again in a few weeks.”
This is the second cross-party call for consensus within a week, following the publication of a blueprint for reform by a group including former Labour and Tory ministers.
However, in a summit held on Wednesday, Tory health spokesperson Andrew Lansley refused to join Labour and Liberal Democrat counterparts Andy Burnham and Norman Lamb’s in cross-party talks after the election because of his party’s opposition to a compulsory levy to pay for care.
The committee also said it was concerned that any long-term reform would take three to four years to implement and recommended four measures that should be taken up immediately as they would be cheap to introduce and alleviate existing pressures on the system.
Key among these is a recommendation to raise the savings threshold – currently £23,000 – above which people must meet the full cost of their residential care, to ease the burden on people of relatively modest means.
It also said the green paper’s proposal to introduce a universal deferred payment mechanism, which would allow people to keep their home during their lifetime and have their residential care fees met up front, to be implemented as soon as possible.
Tax call unlikely to succeed
Its call to reopen the debate on tax-funding is likely to fall on deaf ears, at least before the election, after being ruled out by both Burnham and Lansley this week. Burnham, gave his strongest indication yet this week that the government’s forthcoming white paper would back a compulsory care levy for people over retirement age, which, combined with some money from taxation, would fund all personal care costs.
However, the Labour-dominated committee also criticised the government for failing to spell out in the green paper how much would be spent in total on adult social care in future, regardless of how it was funded. This comes with doubts among senior Labour figures that the white paper will fail to make spending commitments because of concerns at the Treasury.
The report was also critical of the Personal Care at Home Bill, which would introduce free personal care at home for people with high needs as an immediate reform. The committee said it was an underfunded policy, echoing criticisms from groups including the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services.
Hope: Much to do on care reform
Care services minister Phil Hope admitted there was still much work to be done, though claimed the Personal Care at Home Bill was a bridge towards a reformed system.
Hope acknowledged that talks on care would be funded in future were ongoing, but reiterated the government’s opposition to full tax-funding: “We are looking at a model where the state and individuals fund care in partnership. The system will be simple, fair and affordable for everyone.”
Shadow health minister Stephen O’Brien said: “That a Labour-dominated committee is this critical of the government, makes the charges all the more powerful. As they make clear, reform cannot come too soon.”