Liberal Democrat conference: Osborne ‘partly to blame’ for care funding failure


The chancellor, George Osborne, and his civil servants in the Treasury are to blame for the government’s failure to deliver vital reform of the funding of long-term care and support, according to the former Liberal Democrat care services minister.

Paul Burstow, who lost his ministerial post in this month’s government reshuffle, said there had been “a fairly cold, hard-headed judgement on their part that this is not a priority”.

He first revealed his concerns about the Treasury last week, but focused on his frustration at the lack of “urgency” on the issue from senior civil servants.

Now, in an interview at the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton, he has told Disability News Service (DNS) that he blames not only civil servants but also the Conservative chancellor, George Osborne.

He made it clear that the “institutional inertia” at the Treasury pre-dated the formation of the coalition in 2010 and had “bedevilled past attempts to reform funding”, while the previous Labour government had lacked the “very clear political will” necessary to overcome this resistance.

But when asked whether the current failure to approve funding reform should be blamed on Treasury civil servants or Osborne, he said: “I think it’s both.”

He added: “But you only get to the second of these two issues if you address the institutional orthodoxy within the Treasury which does not see this as a problem and therefore it doesn’t frame advice to ministers in a way that conveys a sense that there is a need to find a resolution.”

Burstow has pushed for Osborne and the Treasury to accept the findings of the Dilnot Commission on social care funding, which he said was the “missing piece” of the social care reform “jigsaw puzzle”.

As well as capping the costs of long-term care for older people, the Dilnot report includes proposals to introduce free care and support for all those with “eligible needs” who become disabled before the age of 40.

Burstow said he welcomed reports over the summer that the prime minister had “changed his mind on Dilnot” and now wanted to push through funding reform, but he said suggestions that the Treasury was now “actively engaged with the Department of Health to work out how we could pay for it” were not true.

He said: “There was no change of gear, no additional engagement from the Treasury, no sense that they were escalating it as a priority.

“The prime minister clearly has a very strong desire… as does Nick [Clegg], but they need to take on the Treasury to get it sorted.”

Burstow told DNS that the post of care services minister had been his “dream job”, and that he would continue to focus on social care reform from the backbenches.

Asked whether he was bitter that he had been sacked, despite his reputation as a competent minister whose care and support white paper in July had been widely welcomed – apart from the absence of funding reform measures – when widely-criticised Conservative ministers such as Osborne and Jeremy Hunt had not, he laughed.

He said: “Well, politics is a brutal game and you just have to accept the ups and the downs… There’s no place for bitterness because that just fills you up and it’s not my personality at all.”

His successor as care services minister, Norman Lamb, told a fringe event at the conference that Clegg, the party leader and deputy prime minister, had told him funding reform was a “top priority”.

Lamb mentioned the possibility of bringing in an “independent” figure to find a “quick conclusion” to the search for a way of paying for the reforms – within “months, not years” – as all three main parties were now “broadly in agreement” that Dilnot’s recommendations were the basis for a solution.

Burstow told DNS that he was proud to have established a “very firm foundation” for the reform of adult care and support through his white paper.

He pointed to its emphasis on personalisation and said it would have “a really profound effect on the rights of disabled people who need to access social care”, and would oblige local authorities to consider not just the immediate care needs of an individual, “but their right to have a full role in society”, including employment, leisure activities and education.

26 September 2012