Personal care bill ‘could set precedent for end of means-tested care’


A bill to provide free personal care at home for disabled people with the “highest care needs” has been included in the government’s programme of legislation for the final parliamentary session before the general election.

The personal care at home bill – outlined in the Queen’s Speech – would provide free personal care for the 280, 000 disabled people in England with the highest needs.

The bill will also help around 130,000 people who need home care for the first time to regain their independence through intensive “re-ablement” support.

The government says the bill – which will cost an estimated £670 million a year, with £250 million supposed to come from local government efficiency savings – is the first step towards a “simple, fair and affordable” National Care Service.

Caroline Ellis, joint deputy chief executive of the charity RADAR, welcomed the bill, and said it “chips away at the rationale” for charging for care services, sets a precedent for ending means-testing “across the board” and was a step towards the goal of free universal social care.

But she warned that it would be important to see how much free support people would be given, and the move should be a “net gain” and not at the expense of people with lower care needs.

Proposals for a new energy bill were also outlined in the Queen’s Speech.

The bill will include proposals to force fuel companies to reduce the bills of “vulnerable” people through measures such as debt relief, rebates and discounts.

This will replace a voluntary agreement with energy suppliers which runs out in 2011 and has reduced the bills of more than one million “vulnerable” households, about half of which include a disabled person or someone with a limiting long-term illness.

In July, figures from the government’s own Fuel Poverty Advisory Group suggested that more than a million disabled people had fallen into fuel poverty in four years.

But the government has consistently refused to extend winter fuel payments to severely disabled people under the age of 60.

Meanwhile, the equality bill – which will streamline existing equality laws and introduce a number of new measures around disability discrimination – has been carried over to the new parliamentary session and will resume its Commons progress at the report stage on 2 December.

Ellis said RADAR would continue to push for the removal of several “regressive” measures from the bill, as ministers have promised.

She also said the proposal for universally-available broadband access in the UK by 2012 in the digital economy bill should be a positive development for disabled people.

And she said RADAR might use the children, schools and families bill – also included in the Queen’s Speech – to push for disabled pupils to have the right to support through auxiliary aids and services.

Meanwhile, following the Queen’s Speech, the Conservatives have launched a campaign to prevent the scrapping of disability benefits for older people.

The government suggested in its care and support green paper that it could abolish some non-means-tested disability benefits – likely to include attendance allowance and disability living allowance for those over 65 – and use the savings to help fund means-tested council care services.

But the Conservatives said such cuts would be “unwise, unfair, and unkind” and “wreck” people’s chances of living independently.

19 November 2009