Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg all backed the need to support carers and forge consensus on social care funding reform in yesterday’s first televised debate between the three party leaders.
In the last question of the night, the Labour, Tory and Lib Dem leaders were asked how they would ensure a fairer system of social care funding for older people that would enable them to avoid selling their assets to pay for care.
All three highlighted their parties’ flagship policies.
Brown pointed to Labour’s plan – now on the statute books – to give people with the highest needs free personal care at home, saying it would enable them to stay in their homes for longer.
He also said the proposal in last month’s White Paper to eventually provide care free at the point of need – though funded by a compulsory levy – would ensure no one had to “choose between the home that they own and the care that they need”.
Cameron said the Tories’ plan to allow people to waive residential care fees for a one-off £8,000 payment when they turned 65 would remove the risk of people losing their homes should they need to go into a care home.
Clegg said the Lib Dems’ proposal to give full-time carers a week’s worth of breaks every year would provide them with much-needed support.
In what appeared to be a softening of the Tories’ line, Cameron emphasised the need to forge consensus on reform after the election and did not use the term “death tax” – the Conservatives’ dismissive label for Labour’s compulsory levy plan.
Clegg said that while all parties had some ideas on funding reform, none had the complete solution, and they needed to come together and “put people before politics”.
All three pledged their support for carers, who were described as “unsung heroes” by Cameron and an “unsung army” by Clegg.
Princess Royal Trust for Carers chief executive Carole Cochrane congratulated the party leaders on their praise for carers.
But she added: “Let us not kid ourselves that by singing their praises we will solve the problems they face, such as poverty, ill-health and isolation. [We are] calling on all parties to make the following pledges: regular breaks for carers; a carers’ centre in every area; greater employment or benefit support; and help for young carers in school and further education.”
Cameron also said carers and service users needed more control over their support but claimed there was too much bureaucracy around direct payments.
Drawing on his own family’s experience caring for his late son Ivan, he said: “It’s extremely complicated. You have to set up a separate bank account, you need to read through about four Lever Arch files. Let’s make it easier.”