A health minister has refused to accept the existence of a huge gap between the care and support disabled people need and the funding made available to pay for it.
Paul Burstow, the Liberal Democrat care services minister, was giving evidence to the Commons health committee’s inquiry into social care.
Labour MP Barbara Keeley told Burstow there were “growing levels of unmet need” among disabled and older people and that the King’s Fund had estimated that nearly 900,000 people were being left without basic care.
She said that “most commentators do talk about the social care system being in crisis”, and asked what the government was doing to avert this crisis.
Burstow said the government would be spending an extra £7.2 billion on social care by the end of 2014-15, and was looking at how to “improve productivity” in the social care system.
But Keeley told him that Andrew Dilnot – who led the government’s own independent commission on care funding reform – had told the committee that this extra money had “not found its way through to social care”.
She asked how he could improve social care when he was “unable to channel money to the correct part of the system”.
Her fellow Labour MP Rosie Cooper said: “If I was a member of the public watching this morning I would be filled with despair.
“They know they can’t get the services, local authorities are desperately trying to get the funding to ensure they can deliver basic services, [but]you’re saying there’s no gap.”
Burstow said it was important to remember that social care was a local authority service and councils were “responsible and accountable to their populations” for their decisions.
Keeley repeatedly asked Burstow – without success – to put a figure on the “funding gap”, or the level of “unmet need” in social care.
But Burstow claimed there should be “no gap” because of the extra money invested by the government, and the “efficiency gains” expected of local authorities.
He said: “There need not be a gap if local authorities take the sort of efficiency steps that the Local Government Association has said are possible… then there is no gap opening. The issue is whether each local authority is choosing to do that.”
He repeatedly claimed that measuring “unmet need” was a “difficult thing to do”.
Burstow also confirmed during his evidence that cross-party talks on funding reform had begun that morning.
He said: “We are not prepared to offer a running commentary on those discussions but they are looking at the issues of funding reform.”
17 January 2012