Disabled peers raise concerns over personal care bill


Disabled peers have raised serious concerns about the government’s personal care at home bill, during a Lords debate.

Two of them – Baroness [Rosalie] Wilkins and Lord [Colin] Low – voted for a motion to delay the next stage of the bill, which will introduce free personal care at home for disabled people with the highest needs.

Baroness [Jane] Campbell welcomed the “principle” of free personal care, which “demonstrates the government’s commitment to enabling people with high support needs to stay in their own homes” and would “make it easier for the NHS and local authorities to work together”.

But she said she was concerned that some people with critical needs would miss out on free care, putting “a financial premium on proving how incapable you are” rather than promoting independence.

She concluded: “I welcome some of the fundamental principles behind the bill, but, for now, it throws up more questions than answers.”

Baroness Masham questioned whether the bill’s “aspirations” would be spread fairly across the country as equipment services – including wheelchair services – needed to improve to prevent it becoming “a postcode lottery”.

She also raised concerns that the assessment process would be confusing and overly bureaucratic.

The Labour peer Baroness Wilkins said the bill failed to mention the need for a system of “fast, effective provision of home adaptations”, which is “sorely lacking in many parts of the country”.

She said some councils have reduced their budgets for disabled facilities grants, with more expected to do so this year – despite an increased government grant – because they were no longer legally obliged to match government funding.

Lord Low was particularly critical of the bill and said its cost would be “substantial”, with the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) estimating councils would need to find double the £250 million a year from efficiency savings estimated by the government.

He said: “In practice, the money will have to be found, in whole or in part, through service cuts or, possibly, charges.”

Baroness Thornton, for the government, said the bill would provide “real help to some of those with the highest care needs”, and act as a stepping-stone “towards a greater reform”.

She disputed the ADASS figures but accepted there were “legitimate” concerns about the bureaucracy of the assessment process.

The motion to delay the committee stage until the government had provided more information on implementation was defeated, despite support from Lord Low and Baroness Wilkins.

The Lords committee stage is due to begin on 22 February.

2 February 2010

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