A new parliamentary report that calls on the government to introduce free personal care has been branded a “major breakthrough” for campaigns led by disabled people and their grassroots organisations for a national independent living service.
The report, by the House of Lords economic affairs committee, has called for the government to inject an immediate £8 billion into social care in England.
But the committee’s report, Social Care Funding: Time to End a National Scandal, also says the government should move over the next five years towards the introduction of free personal care, funded mostly by general taxation.
It is only calling for those with substantial and critical needs to receive free care, and it says this should only be offered for support with washing, dressing and cooking (personal care), but not for areas such as housework and shopping and other areas of independent living.
But it is still a clear move in the direction of calls from the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (RoFA), which wants to see a new national independent living service, built on “what was most successful” about the former Independent Living Fund.
RoFA says this should be funded through general taxation, and should be free, non-means-tested and “provided on the basis of need, not profit”.
The Independent Living Strategy Group, led by Baroness [Jane] Campbell, has made similar demands, calling for a legal right to independent living and an end to charging for social care.
Professor Peter Beresford (pictured), co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, who has himself written widely on the need for a national independent living service, free of charge, and paid for from direct taxation, said the new report was “a major breakthrough”.
He said: “The Lords report is the first real formal sign that the powers that be are beginning to recognize that service users and our organisations have got it right about social care, and only radical reform which puts it on the same terms as the NHS – funded by general taxation and personal care essentially free at the point of delivery – will work.
“Only this will end the social care crisis, make prevention possible for rapidly growing numbers of people in need and make it possible to unify health and care.”
He added: “Neither of the Tory leadership candidates will of course really sign up to this because it goes against their market principles and short-term cost cutting approach.
“If they don’t, social care failure will still be making headlines long after they have been forgotten.”
The new Lords report says publicly-funded social care support is £700 million per year lower in real terms than 2010-11, when the Tory-led coalition came to power, despite continuing increases in the number of people needing support.
Inclusion London, a RoFA member, had told the committee’s inquiry: “Disabled people are receiving an extremely basic ‘clean and feed’ model of care.
“The most basic choices such as when to get up, go to bed or use the toilet, when and what to eat, and the choice to leave the house are no longer in the hands of disabled people but subject to local authority budget allocations which are becoming ever more restricted.”
Lord Forsyth, the committee’s chair and a former Tory cabinet minister, said the system was “riddled with unfairness”.
He said: “Someone with dementia can pay hundreds of thousands of pounds for their care, while someone with cancer receives it for free.
“Local authorities are increasingly expected to fund social care themselves, despite differences in local care demands and budgets.
“The reduction in social care funding has been greatest in the most deprived areas.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We have given local authorities access to up to £3.9 billion more dedicated funding for adult social care this year, and a further £410 million is available for adults and children’s services.
“We will set out our plans to reform the social care system at the earliest opportunity to ensure it is sustainable for the future.”
These plans, to be published in a green paper, have been repeatedly delayed since the government first announced that they would be presented by the end of 2017.
Meanwhile, a report by the Local Government Association says almost one third of councils in England and Wales fear they will run out of funding to meet their legal duties by 2022-23, in areas such as adult social care.
Lord Porter, the LGA’s Tory chair, said: “As this survey shows, if the government fails to adequately fund local government there is a real risk to the future financial viability of some services and councils.”
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