Conservative party conference: Ministers accused of avoiding social care ‘hot potato’


newslatestA disabled Conservative campaigner who is battling to save the Independent Living Fund (ILF) has accused her own party of avoiding the “hot potato” issue of social care.

ILF-user Mary Laver travelled from her home on the edge of Newcastle-upon-Tyne to visit the party conference in Birmingham this week and lobby Conservative members on the closure plans.

She said the reaction of party members who she talked to about the coalition’s intention to close ILF next summer were surprised at the plans.

One police and crime commissioner pledged to contact each of the eight MPs in his area about the ILF closure.

Laver, who was sponsored by the disabled people’s organisation Inclusion London to attend the event, said: “The people I have spoken to have been very positive about what I have been saying and very surprised at the cuts that the government are making.”

ILF is a government-resourced trust which helps about 18,000 disabled people with the highest support needs to live independently, but the coalition plans to close it in June 2015 and pass the non-ring-fenced funding to local authorities.

Laver, who is working closely with Disabled People Against Cuts, is today (Thursday) sending prime minister David Cameron a letter, asking him to think again over the ILF closure.

In the letter she says: “At this moment in time, I am trying very hard to keep supporting you, but it is extremely difficult because of what is happening to disabled people under your government.”

She tells him that her future is “completely uncertain” and that the worry has caused her weight to drop from nine stone to six stone.

And she adds: “It’s not just the loss of the ILF that is causing me personal great concern. It’s lots of other things your government is doing to disabled people – the bedroom tax, cuts to council tax benefit, the evils of Atos and other private companies brought in to get people off the books.”

Laver was in the main conference hall to listen to Cameron deliver his main keynote speech to the party.

Although she was “very pleased” with most of what she heard, she was “extremely disappointed” that the prime minister failed to mention social care.

She said: “He touched on the NHS and I thought, ‘Here we go,’ but he didn’t touch on social care, he didn’t mention it at all… They do seem to keep side-stepping it.”

Meanwhile, the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, made it clear that he wants to continue to move towards greater integration of health and social care, and a culture of “not just personal care but personal control”.

He told a Care and Support Alliance fringe event that he was “extremely proud of the progress we have made in the last four years” on social care, including the new Care Act.

He pointed to new national eligibility criteria, which will mean “we can be confident of more consistency across the country”; the cap on care costs, which he said was “a very big step forward”; and measures taken to toughen up health and social care regulation, which have made it “the toughest inspection regime in the world”.

Hunt attacked the culture of short-term decision-making, which led to people being denied care and “ends up costing the NHS more in the end”.

Hunt was also forced to defend the government from accusations that its efforts to return people with learning difficulties from out-of-area assessment and treatment units to their own home communities had been “a complete failure”.

Kaliya Franklin, co-development lead of People First England, said there were now more people with learning difficulties institutionalised than there had been before the Winterbourne View abuse scandal that led to the government launching its action plan.

The action plan aimed to ensure that all people with learning difficulties staying in in-patient beds received “personalised care and support in appropriate community settings” no later than 1 June 2014.

But Franklin said this post-Winterbourne View project was now led by someone with no experience of working with disabled people, and she told Hunt that disabled people and carers should instead lead the way, “supported by the third sector, rather than the other way round”.

Hunt admitted that he was “not happy with the speed we have made dealing with that issue”.

He said: “It has turned out to be a lot more complex than we thought when we initially made that statement.”

He said delays were being caused by “a lot of clinical judgements that people cannot be returned back to the community”, and he added: “It is not straightforward to tell a doctor that their judgement is wrong.

“We are absolutely committed to doing it but we have to end up with the right outcome for very, very vulnerable people.”

2 October 2014