Four leading disabled figures have backed a call for politicians to “seize” the latest opportunity to reform the funding of adult social care.
The crossbench peers Baroness [Jane] Campbell and Lord [Colin] Low, and Liz Sayce and Sue Bott from Disability Rights UK, were among more than 60 leading figures from the disability, social care and health fields to sign the letter, published this week in the Daily Telegraph.
The letter pleads with the coalition and the Labour party to work together to meet the “unavoidable challenge” of “how to support the increasing number of people who need care”.
They say the failure to meet this challenge is resulting in “terrible examples of abuse and neglect in parts of the care system”, with disabled people “unable to get the support they need to live their lives independently and be part of society”.
As the letter was published, a spokesman for the prime minister said David Cameron had written to Labour leader Ed Miliband “restating his commitment to constructive and open discussions” on social care reform.
Andrew Lansley, the Conservative health secretary, and Paul Burstow, the Liberal Democrat care services minister, will lead the talks for the government.
Andy Burnham, Labour’s shadow health secretary, welcomed Cameron’s move but said it had taken more than six months for the government to accept Miliband’s offer of cross-party talks.
Following the publication last summer of the recommendations of the Dilnot commission on the funding of care and support, the government is due to publish a social care white paper this spring.
Disability News Service has been raising concerns since last summer that the white paper will exclude any proposals on funding, because of fears over the cost of implementing Dilnot’s report.
Burnham said Labour would “play a full part in talks on the Dilnot proposals” and would “push for them to be implemented in full as a first step”.
Last week, Labour released a survey of care charges, which showed the average annual cost for a disabled or older person who pays for 10 hours of home care a week was now £7,015, or £8,271 a year for those also receiving meals on wheels every day.
The survey also highlighted the huge variations among different local authorities, with home care that was free in Tower Hamlets costing £20.34 an hour in Cheshire East, while the weekly cap on costs imposed by some councils ranged from £105 in Hackney to £900 per week in Brighton and Hove.
The Telegraph letter came as the Department of Health (DH) announced an extra one-off sum of £150 million for local authorities to help people leave hospital more quickly and receive care at home.
DH said the money would “help to get the services in place that people sometimes need to live independently at home”.
DH also announced a £20 million one-off payment to local authorities to boost funding of disabled facilities grants (DFG).
But such funding is no longer “ring-fenced” – following a coalition decision in 2010 – so local authorities will have no obligation to spend the new money on DFGs, which are used to pay for adaptations such as installing ramps or stair-lifts or providing a downstairs bathroom.
Government funding for DFGs in 2011-12 was £180 million.
Meanwhile, social care staff and employers now have access to a government-funded, confidential whistle-blowing helpline for the first time.
The helpline was formerly available only to NHS staff and run by the charity Public Concern at Work, but the new service is operated by the disability charity Mencap.
>From 1 January 2012, social care and NHS staff in need of independent and confidential whistle-blowing advice about abuse or patient and service-user safety can call free on 08000 724 725.
5 January 2012