Older people’s charities have given a cautious welcome to the prime minister’s pledge to provide free personal care for some older disabled people who live in their own homes.
Gordon Brown made the promise during his speech to the party’s annual conference in Brighton.
He said free personal care would be given to older people with the “highest needs” who live in their own homes, if Labour wins re-election next year.
The pledge is likely to be offered from October 2010 to about 350,000 older people with conditions such as dementia.
More than half of the annual £670 million cost will be met by the Department of Health, with local authorities having to find the remaining £250 million.
Andrew Harrop, head of policy for the charities Age Concern and Help the Aged, welcomed the pledge, which he said would be a “great relief” to older people and their families.
But he said: “It will be essential that councils are properly funded to provide this care so that there is not an incentive for them to push older people into care homes or claim that their needs are not critical enough to warrant free care at home.”
And he said there would still be a need for “fundamental reform of the care system”, as proposed reforms in July’s care and support green paper “do not give the detail of how the quality of care will be improved or how help will be given to those who currently miss out”.
Neil Hunt, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, said the pledge sounded promising, but there was now a need to hear the “substance behind the sound bite”, such as what the government meant by “highest needs” and what criteria they would use to judge this.
Hunt said the current care charging system meant that many people with dementia are “spending their life savings on what is often poor quality care”.
Meanwhile, Labour also promised to put the idea of a new National Care Service – as announced in the green paper – at the centre of its general election campaign.
Health secretary Andy Burnham called for “a fairer and better quality care system, where everyone gets some help, where staff are properly rewarded, giving peace of mind in retirement”.
30 September 2009