Personal care bill passes Commons hurdle


A government bill to introduce free personal care at home for disabled people with the highest needs has completed its progress through the Commons.

But elements of the personal care at home bill faced severe criticism, particularly from Conservative MPs.

The government says the bill will benefit 110 000 people with the highest needs who currently pay for some or all of their personal care at home, including 20,000 younger disabled adults.

It will also provide intensive “re-ablement” support for around 130,000 people who need home care for the first time.

But Conservative shadow health minister Stephen O’Brien said the bill went “utterly against the grain of the government’s green paper on social care, not least because it is being funded from general taxation”.

He said the £250 million council efficiency savings the government said would part-fund the bill had been “plucked…out of the air” and if they could not be found they would “have to come from cuts or increases in charges”.

He added: “The biggest concern is that increases in charges will fall on those with substantial, moderate or low care needs.”

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Greg Mulholland said the bill would help “only a tiny number” of people affected by the worsening “social care crisis”.

Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat shadow health secretary, said his party was concerned that the bill’s costs would “keep rising”, that it would provide an incentive for councils to “push people into care homes” and that the wealthiest older people would benefit most.

But care services minister Phil Hope said the bill was “an elegant way” to achieve the goal of supporting people “with the greatest possible needs” in their own homes.

He said councils could cuts costs by developing “preventive” and “re-ablement” services.

He said: “We are consulting widely on how the system will work and how people will be assessed.

“I want councils to have flexibility over how they resource the free personal care offer, while we ensure consistency across the country over who receives it.”

The bill will now be debated in the Lords, where it will undergo more detailed scrutiny and is predicted to face tougher opposition.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has also published its briefing on the bill, in which it “broadly welcomes” free personal care for those with critical needs, but expresses concerns that the bill “appears to cut across” options laid out in the green paper, and could lead to reduced support for those with less critical needs.

The commission said the government’s forthcoming care and support white paper should set out “a comprehensive vision of better care for all and how it will be properly funded”.

14 January 2010