The Department of Health (DH) is set to cause outrage among disabled campaigners after it appears to have abandoned plans to include reforms to care and support funding in a white paper next spring.
Following this week’s launch of a well-received report on the funding of care and support in England by the Dilnot commission, the government said it planned to consult with the care sector over the autumn, before publishing a white paper on “wider social care reform” next spring.
This had already caused alarm among disabled activists and other campaigners, because the government originally pledged to produce a white paper by the end of this year, with a social care bill – containing funding reforms – to follow next year.
The DH said this week that the white paper would include the government’s response to the Law Commission’s report on reforming adult social care law, alongside a “progress report on funding”, which will lay out its response to the Dilnot report.
But when asked tonight by Disability News Service whether this meant that the white paper would not include any proposals on funding reform, a DH spokeswoman repeatedly declined to comment.
When asked directly whether the white paper would include measures on funding, she said: “I cannot add to the statement.”
And when asked why she was unable to provide clarity on whether the government was intending to abandon funding reform in the short term, she said: “I can only give you the statement. That is the statement as it stands at the moment.”
If this signals a decision to postpone reform yet again – following years of prevarication by the previous Labour government – the coalition will face huge anger from disabled people, the wider social care sector and Andrew Dilnot and his fellow commissioners.
At the launch of their report, Dilnot said his reaction and that of his colleagues would be one of “astonishment” if the government decided to “kick the proposals into the long grass” for cost reasons.
And he said those feelings would “rapidly go beyond disappointment” if the government’s promised white paper – including proposals for funding reform – was not published by next Easter.
Dame Jo Williams, another commissioner, added: “It seems to us that we have been talking about this for a very long time and people want more than talk now. People now want things to happen.
“I think we will be saying those things very loudly and I do not think we will be lone voices. It is time for action.”
Dame Jo said that “disappointment is not adequate” to describe how they would feel if the government did not take action, and that if that happened they would be “disgusted”.
The government has already warned that it will have to consider the “significant costs” of Dilnot’s recommendations against “other calls on constrained resources”.
The Conservative health secretary Andrew Lansley claimed that he remained “fully committed to pursuing reform in this parliament” [by 2015], but that he now wanted to “engage with those most closely involved in the care and support system to ensure we get these reforms right”.
He said this timetable would give the government, opposition, stakeholders and the public the “opportunity to come forward with a consensus”.
The Liberal Democrat care services minister Paul Burstow said Dilnot’s report came “with a price tag” and that it was “right that we take the time to consider his solution and the trade-offs here, particularly in light of the current economic climate”.
The DH has also made it clear that there is “no time-frame” for when the government will publish its social care bill.
7 July 2011