The government’s personal care at home bill will only provide free care to an extra 20,000 younger disabled adults, the government has admitted.
Health secretary Andy Burnham revealed the figure during the second reading of the bill in the Commons.
The government had said its bill would provide free personal care at home for 280,000 disabled people with the highest needs.
But Burnham told MPs about 80,000 older people with the highest needs who would benefit already receive free care, although the bill would help 40,000 older people currently paying part of their costs and 50,000 who pay all their costs.
He said the bill would also help 20,000 younger disabled adults who pay all or part of their costs, while 90,000 already receive free care.
Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat shadow health secretary, said the total number of disabled people who would benefit was only 110,000.
He said councils might avoid these costs by forcing people into residential care or arguing that people do not have “critical” needs.
He added: “We are likely to see a bureaucratic and time-consuming process of social workers carrying out assessments to determine whether someone’s needs are ‘substantial’ or ‘critical’.”
But Burnham said the bill would “end the lottery in home care” for those with “the highest needs” and “make the existing system fairer now and pave the way for a bigger reform of social care” after the general election.
He said the bill would provide a “bridge” towards a national care service that was “geared around promoting people’s independence, good health and supporting them to stay at home”.
He said Isle of Wight council reduced residential care placements by two-fifths after introducing free personal care at home.
Andrew Lansley, the Conservative shadow health secretary, questioned why the government was providing free care at home when its care and support green paper ruled out the option of taxpayer-funded free social care.
He said Scotland’s experience showed free personal care was “unaffordable”, while the bill’s estimated £670 million annual cost might rise even higher because people currently receiving informal care or paying for care privately might also want to benefit.
Lamb said the bill – which will also provide intensive “re-ablement” support for around 130,000 people who need home care for the first time – was inconsistent with the green paper, was “not joined up” and “helps one group, but not all”.
He called for an immediate cross-party commission aimed at reaching a consensus over care funding.
15 December 2009