A health minister has fuelled concerns that next spring’s social care white paper will not include long-awaited reforms to the funding of care and support.
The comments by the Conservative peer Earl Howe to Disability News Service (DNS) have increased fears that the government has decided to postpone funding reforms because of opposition from chancellor George Osborne and the Treasury.
Lord Howe was speaking after the three members of the Dilnot commission on the funding of care and support – whose report last week was widely welcomed – discussed their proposals with the all-party parliamentary disability group and several other all-party groups.
Last week, the Department of Health repeatedly refused to comment when asked whether the white paper would include proposals on funding reform.
And after this week’s meeting, Lord Howe told DNS that he was “not the person to ask”, even though he is a health minister.
When asked again whether the white paper would contain proposals on funding reform, he said: “I don’t know. It is too soon to say.”
Baroness [Jane] Campbell, the disabled crossbench peer who chaired the meeting, said afterwards: “My guess, and I hope I’m wrong, is that they will want to kick the funding settlement into the medium grass for the time being and select parts of the report that they can safely put in the white paper, like portability of assessment.
“Anything with significant money attached to it seems to be totally anathema to the Treasury at the moment, however compelling the arguments. We are in desperate times, I’m afraid.”
Emily Thornberry, Labour’s shadow care services minister, told the meeting that her party had been “concerned” to hear of “unattributed briefings” that the Dilnot commission’s report was to be “strangled at birth” by Osborne’s Treasury.
But Lord Howe said the commission had done a “really terrific job”, and claimed the government wanted to “keep the momentum up” on funding reform and that it “remains our intention to legislate at the earliest possible opportunity”.
After the meeting, Dame Jo Williams, one of the commissioners, said she and her colleagues “remain optimistic about what we have heard so far” from the government.
Andrew Dilnot, who chaired the commission, told DNS: “My expectation is that there will be a serious considered response to our report. I am genuinely pretty confident that we are going to see some action.”
But Thornberry said: “I get the impression that there is a tussle going on between the Treasury and the Department of Health.”
Alex Cowan, a disabled equality consultant who attended the meeting, welcomed the government’s decision to commission the report, which she said “holds out hope for disabled and older people to have a life where they can have independence, dignity and security in having access to the care we need and want”.
But she said the government’s response so far had been “unconvincing, in the face of what seem to be serious attacks on people’s fundamental dignity, independence and choice and control”, such as the case of Elaine McDonald, who last week lost her Supreme Court appeal for night-time support from Kensington and Chelsea council.
Cowan said: “It makes you feel as if you cannot get on with the future because you’re worried to talk about what it’s going to look like and even if you are going to be able to get out of the house.”
Meanwhile, the Local Government Ombudsman’s annual report reveals that the number of complaints about adult social care rose sharply in 2010/11.
In 2009/10, there were 667 adult social care complaints concerning councils, but this rose to 974 last year, an increase of nearly 50 per cent.