Labour conference: Mystery over Burnham’s social care integration plans


A Labour government would move to “integrate” social care with the NHS, the shadow health secretary has told the party’s annual conference.

Andy Burnham told delegates in Manchester that he wanted an end to the current three “separate, fragmented” systems for health, social care and mental health.

Burnham told the conference that “all options must be considered, including full integration of health and social care”.

But, despite suggestions at fringe events earlier in the week, Burnham did not reveal any further details about possible plans for this single, integrated health and social care service.

No-one from the party has so far been able to comment on whether more detailed plans for integration had been dropped from the speech.

Burnham also called in his speech for an end to the “care lottery” and the need for a “clear, national entitlement to what physical, mental and social care we can afford, so people can see what’s free and what must be paid for”.

He also attacked a social care system that allowed care workers to be “exploited in a cut-price, minimum wage business” and called for them to be “held in the same regard as NHS staff”.

At a fringe event organised by health and social care organisations earlier in the week, Burnham said that it was “a scandal” that care and support was “still a minimum wage industry”.

He also suggested that he did not believe that the recommendations suggested by the Dilnot Commission on long-term care funding would completely resolve the crisis in funding.

He said: “Dilnot is a step but it doesn’t solve everything.”

Burnham suggested that the Dilnot report was “a very traditional bid” for funding from the Treasury, which was accused last week of being to blame for the government’s failure to deliver reform.

But he also dismissed widespread calls from across the disability sector for free care and support to be funded through a rise in general taxation, just as the NHS is.

He said this would not be right because the current generation of older people would be benefiting from free care when they hadn’t contributed to it through increased taxes during their working lives.

It was left to Richard Hawkes, chief executive of the disability charity Scope, to deliver a reminder to the party that social care was not “just an issue about older people”.

He told the fringe event that he had spoken to a service-user whose support was being cut, who was constantly being challenged about the hours of support they should receive, and who was now worried that they would soon no longer be able to leave their house, because of a lack of support.

Another disabled person has told Hawkes that because he was unable to tie his own shoelaces – and doesn’t have the support he needs – he has been forced to ask strangers passing his house to tie his laces for him.

Hawkes said the consequences of the government failing to find a funding solution would be “incredibly serious”, with thousands of disabled people left unable to wash, dress, or leave their homes.

He said it was necessary to ask “whether we want a country that treats older people and disabled people with dignity and respect, or a country that simply keeps them alive”.

Elsewhere at the conference, Yvette Cooper, the shadow women and equalities minister, and shadow home secretary, pointed in her speech on equality to the examples of gold-medal winning Paralympians such as Ellie Simmonds, Hannah Cockroft, Jonnie Peacock and David Weir.

She said their success showed “how much more all of us can achieve, whatever our circumstances, when we support each other, rather than leaving people to sink or to swim, alone”.

She said: “It is a vision of a society that supports those who care for children or for elderly relatives, who are getting older, or who have a disability, to do all they can do. Be all they can be.”

And in his conference speech, Sadiq Khan, the shadow justice secretary, said it was “morally wrong” that more than 70 per cent of the prison population had two or more mental health conditions.

He told delegates: “We’ve replaced the Victorian asylum with the Victorian prison.

“Festering in prison with serious mental health problems that can and should be treated is morally wrong.”

He said the next Labour government would “open a new front in the war on re-offending” by giving a justice minister “specific responsibility for rooting out mental health problems in our criminal justice system”.

3 October 2010