The new care bill – which will replace a complex network of laws built up over 60 years with a “single, clear statute” – was among the new bills announced in this week’s Queen’s speech.
One of the headline measures of the bill is the introduction of reforms based on recommendations by the Dilnot commission, including a cap on lifetime care costs and free care and support for some younger disabled people.
But disabled activists immediately warned that by far the most crucial action the government needed to take was to fill the social care “funding gap”.
Jane Young, an independent consultant and coordinator of the We Are Spartacus online network of disabled campaigners, said: “Whilst the government has announced a cap on social care charges in the Queen’s speech, those at the sharp end know this is all-but irrelevant.”
She said the priority for working-age service-users was “properly funded social care”, and added: “The most pressing issue is the desperate need for social care to be properly funded, to promote independent living rather than a ‘feed and clean’ service.
“To achieve this, the government will need to be committed to independent living and equality of opportunity for disabled people; sadly, the absence of provision for those who will be affected by the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) strongly suggests that commitment simply isn’t there.”
Richard Currie, an executive member of Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, also pointed to ILF’s planned closure in 2015, and this week’s survey by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, which warned of another £800 million in cuts to adult social care budgets this year.
He said: “The future for disabled people with complex support needs living independently looks very bleak.”
The care bill, most of which will apply only to England, will also introduce “portable” assessments for the first time, so disabled people who want to move from one local authority to another will not have to face a lengthy delay while waiting for their support needs to be re-assessed by their new council.
And for the first time, there will be a legal entitlement for council support to be received as a personal budget, and a legal duty on councils to provide support for carers with eligible needs.
There will also be a national minimum eligibility threshold for care and support, and a new system of ratings for hospitals and care homes.
Among the government’s other plans for the next year that were mentioned in the Queen’s speech, it said it would take forward reforms to childcare, including measures to allow some providers to take in more children per staff member.
But Simone Aspis, policy and campaigns coordinator for the Alliance for Inclusive Education, said she was concerned that such providers would not be able to meet the needs of disabled children, and so would refuse to admit them.
She said: “They will be looking after too many children, so we think disabled children are more likely to be excluded.
“We are genuinely concerned and we do not think the government have done an equality impact assessment on what the implementation will mean if they increase the ratio between care staff and the number of children they are looking after.”
The government also said it would take forward reforms to the school exam system, including an end to “modularisation”, so that all external exams will need to be taken at the end of the course.
Aspis said: “We genuinely do have concerns that there will be less flexibility in the system to allow disabled young people to demonstrate their knowledge in their subject area.
“Not everybody can demonstrate their competence in examinations at the end of the two-year period.
“Modularisation allowed people with physical impairments to spread out the number of examinations throughout the year.”
9 May 2013