Care bill ‘is culmination of 25 years campaigning for independent living’


theweeksubDisabled peers have welcomed the government’s new care bill, but have warned that passing the legislation will mean nothing without action to solve the social care funding crisis.

The bill’s lengthy journey through parliament began this week with its second reading in the Lords, with several disabled peers backing the main principles of the legislation.

Baroness [Jane] Campbell said the bill was the culmination of more than 25 years’ work by the independent living movement, which has “fought to ensure that disabled people of all ages have the same opportunities that everyone else takes for granted”.

But she added: “The struggle continues today. Many people believe, as I do, that disabled people have lost ground recently.”

She praised the bill’s “positive trends” towards the personalisation of care and support, many of which have their “roots in the user and carer movements”, and represent “a sea change in the values and attitudes embodied in the legislative framework for adult social care” by treating people who need support as “citizens first and foremost”.

The crossbench peer suggested that, although the bill “sets out many of the right goals”, peers would need to “question the government very closely on some of the means by which they intend to achieve them”.

She added: “Much also depends on how local authorities choose to implement their responsibilities and powers under this legislation. There is a great danger that this bill could be ignored as being fine words but without teeth.”

She warned that disabled people “do not just fear the consequences of inadequate funding, they dread past ways of working creeping back in the name of austerity.

“Those of us who use care services must be given more control to enable us to survive these difficult financial times.”

And she said that she would push to ensure that measures to introduce portability in the bill would match her own private members’ bill on the issue, which would ensure that “disabled people can move to another [local authority]area, confident that they will receive the support they need to enable them to continue to play an active role in society”.

She added: “I have great expectations of this bill’s capacity to change the way that care and support are delivered in the future. We have waited for this a very long time. We must not let the opportunity slip through our hands.”

Lord [Colin] Low praised the bill for consolidating and modernising the legal framework for adult social care; creating a framework for “limiting people’s exposure to crippling costs for their care”; and establishing the principle that “the well-being of the individual should be the animating purpose of social care”.

He said it also establishes rights for carers, and the principle of portability of care and support, as well as renewing the legal basis for local council registers of visually-impaired adults.

The crossbench peer said the bill was making “important progress in getting the framework right”, but warned that there was “still major work to do to ensure that it is adequately funded and implemented in the right way”, and that “without this, all this good work will come to nothing”.

He added: “If greater integration of health and social care budgets is to mean anything at all, it must mean a transfer of resources from the NHS budget to fund adult social care properly.”

Lord Low was among peers who praised measures to introduce a national eligibility threshold for council care and support, but said this would “fail to improve the social care system for disabled and elderly people if eligibility is set too high”.

Baroness [Rosalie] Wilkins, the Labour peer, welcomed much of the bill, but warned that unless it was properly funded, “its aspirational principle and welcome structure will just rub salt into the wound of the current crisis in social care”.

She pointed to the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) in 2015, and said the fears of ILF-users that they could then face a return to institutional care were “not exaggerated”.

She said: “The justified fears of ILF-users serve only to highlight the current crisis in adult social care which is failing to support disabled people to do the basic things in life – basic needs such as washing, dressing and getting out of the house.”

Baroness Wilkins also pledged that she would work to ensure that the need for suitable, accessible housing was included in the bill.

The crossbench peer Baroness Masham, president of the Spinal Injuries Association, said the bill was “good in theory”, but added: “If eligibility is set too high, people will become isolated in their homes and unable to work.”

She said: “I am sure that care can become more co-ordinated and save resources if health and social care work in co-operation and co-ordination.”

23 May 2013