Labour’s plans for elderly care branded a train crash waiting to happen
Elderly people have been left ‘waiting for God’ by the labour Government’s decision to shelve plans for a comprehensive National Care Service for at least six years, charities have warned.
Gordon Brown described Labour’s proposal for an NHS-style universal scheme as “bold and ambitious,” despite postponing the plan until the election after next.
Andy Burnham, the Health Secretary, defended the delay, saying: “Rome wasn’t built in a day” as he unveiled a White Paper setting out the staged introduction of improved care for the elderly
MPs last week voted through the first part of the proposals, a law to provide free personal care in the home for 400,000 people with the “greatest needs”.
If Labour is elected, Mr Burnham said, this would be followed in 2014 by the provision of free nursing care for those in residential accommodation for more than two years.
Questions were raised immediately, however, over how ministers would meet the scheme’s £800 million price tag, after it emerged that most of the costs would be met from “efficiencies”.
The Conservatives also pointed out that care home residents would still be required to pick up their own accommodation costs, such as utilities and housing fees, which average £14,000 a year.
Labour had originally hoped to fight the forthcoming general election on a radical pledge to establish a comprehensive National Care Service, paid for by elderly people from a range of methods including an inheritance levy.
The plans were shelved at the last minute amid Tory accusations that the party was planning a “death tax,” leading to Cabinet fears that the proposal would prove unpopular at the ballot box.
Instead, Mr Burnham announced that a commission to be established during the next Parliament would seek a “consensus” on funding for a comprehensive, compulsory National Care Service “based in need rather than the ability to pay,” which would then be put to voters in the election expected in around 2015.
The Health Secretary confirmed that the “death tax” option remained on the table for the review, which would follow an earlier Royal Commission, chaired by Lord Sutherland, which concluded in 1999 and which the labour Government failed to act on.
Charities immediately criticised the delay – and questioned how the labour Government proposed to meet the costs of their more modest residential care plans when councils were already being ordered to make massive cutbacks.
Steve Barnett, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “We have significant concerns about the further delays in implementing a long-term solution.”
Dot Gibson, general secretary of the National Pensioners’ Coalition, added: “Social care in Britain has been in crisis for decades, but many older people and their families will not be able to wait until 2016 before they get any help.”
The over-50s group Saga warned that elderly people had been left: “Waiting for God – and for care funding.”
Emma Soames, Saga spokesman, said: “We’re disappointed by the delay, lack of detail and any figures. Overall, it seems like a lot of waiting just to be told that they are going to a Royal Commission – which they could easily ignore as they did with long term care in1999 – to draw up proposals for a change in the system for 2015.”
Opposition politicians also criticised the delay. Andrew Lansley, the shadow health secretary, said: “The Government is in complete retreat and they have ended up with not a White Paper but frankly a train crash.
“We seem to have arrived at the point where Andy Burnham is saying he wants everyone to have free care but he doesn’t know how to pay for it.
“The death tax is alive and kicking – despite their attempts to bury it in the small print of policy in the hope people won’t notice. The simple fact remains that if Labour win the election, they’d introduce plans for a death tax to pay for care.”
Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, added: “After 13 years in power spent ducking social care reform, we probably shouldn’t be surprised that Labour has once again hit it into the long grass.
“A White Paper without any commitment to substantial change in the next Parliament is barely worth the paper it is written on. We’re now being offered a series of piecemeal reforms that have not been properly thought through or costed.”
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