Peers have delivered a damaging blow to government plans to introduce free personal care at home for disabled and older people with the highest needs.
An amendment added to the personal care at home bill during its report stage in the Lords means implementation would be delayed until after April 2011, rather than the planned date of 1 October 2010.
The disabled peers Baroness Wilkins, Baroness Masham, Lord [Colin] Low and Baroness [Jane] Campbell all backed the amendment, which received support from all parties and was easily passed.
Three other successful amendments – including one to force an independent review of the costs of the bill – would also delay its implementation.
The bill would provide free personal care at home to an estimated 280,000 disabled and older people with the highest needs (although this figure includes 170,000 people who already receive free personal care).
There have been widespread criticisms from opponents who say the bill will be far more costly than the government has estimated, will have “unintended consequences” and will cause “administrative chaos” in councils.
But the bill has received widespread backing from disability, older people’s and carers’ organisations, many of which see it as a first step towards the goal of free universal social care.
The government said the amendments could “jeopardise the timetable of the legislation” and delay the promised support.
Commentators were doubtful that there would be enough time for the government to overturn the amendments in the Commons and force the bill through under its original timetable, because of the imminent election.
A Department of Health spokeswoman said the government was “determined to make this a reality for those people in most need and secure this bill as a first step in the transformation of the care and support system”.
When asked whether the government was hoping to overturn the amendments and complete the bill’s progress before the election, she said: “We will consider next steps in due course.”
If the bill is lost, it would also mean the loss of a breakthrough in the battle for “portability” – allowing disabled people to bring their support packages with them when they move to a different part of the country.
Regulations agreed by the government would ensure that those receiving free personal care would be “guaranteed seamless support in the event of moving from one local authority to another”.
Baroness Campbell told fellow peers that the bill would provide an “opportunity to test how we can deliver portability in practice”, and detailed negotiations between herself, the disability charity RADAR and the government had led to “clear and robust enforceable regulations and directives”.
18 March 2010