Royal commission chair dismisses need for new care inquiry

The government's plan to set up an independent commission on care funding "is a recipe for doing nothing", the chair of the 1997-9 Royal Commission on Long...

The government’s plan to set up an independent commission on care funding “is a recipe for doing nothing”, the chair of the 1997-9 Royal Commission on Long Term Care for the Elderly has said.

Lord Sutherland, whose commission’s call to introduce free tax-funded personal care was rejected by the UK government, said there was no justification for the government delaying funding reform until after 2015, pending the commission’s recommendations.

Last week’s care White Paper proposed that a cross-party commission should be set up after the election to decide how individuals should contribute to the costs of its proposed national care service, based on a political consensus.

Sutherland said he supported the government’s idea of a national care service with services free at the point of need. But he said that all that a commission could do was analyse the options for reform – something that could be done quickly – with only ministers able to decide what should be implemented.

“The options can be done by a competent public sector economist and a couple of civil servants in a week or a month. What you need is a decision and for that, as we found out, you don’t need a commission you need ministers who have a timescale.”

He added: “Where the six years [between now and the final reform] come from, I don’t know.”

Alluding to the fact that the UK government supported the views of a minority on the royal commission in rejecting free personal care, he added: “If you set up a body of a dozen people you can always get a couple to disagree, enabling the government to [reject the majority view].”

He said he still believed funding care out of general taxation was the fairest option, as it was based on ability to pay, but this has been ruled out by ministers as placing an unfair burden on working-age people and would not be considered by the commission.

Sutherland admitted that the chances of him being asked to serve on the commission were “zero minus”, saying the UK government blamed him for the Scottish government’s decision to introduce free personal care in 2002.

The Conservatives have said they would not introduce a commission if they won power in next month’s election.

Read full coverage of the White Paper.

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