The Department of Health has been heavily criticised for downgrading the seniority of the minister in charge of adult social care.
The last four ministers responsible for social care – Labour’s Phil Hope, Liberal Democrats Paul Burstow and Norman Lamb, and Tory Alistair Burt – were all ministers of state, senior ministers one level below the secretary of state.
But David Mowat, appointed in the ministerial reshuffle that followed the replacement of prime minister David Cameron by Theresa May, will only be a junior minister.
His brief as minister for community health and care includes adult social care, carers, community services, cancer, dementia, learning difficulties and primary care.
Mowat, MP for Warrington South since 2010, is a former global managing partner with the consulting firm Accenture, and describes his parliamentary interests as “energy policy, economic growth and job creation, occupational pensions and banking”.
Other appointments under health secretary Jeremy Hunt include Philip Dunne as minister of state for health, and Nicola Blackwood as junior minister for public health and innovation, while Lord Prior remains as a junior minister covering all aspects of health in the House of Lords.
Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, said that downgrading the role of social care minister “has to be a serious backward step”.
He said: “Symbolically it is important; it communicates lowered priority for social care, when many experts and service-users thought it couldn’t get much worse.
“We need committed, skilled ministers for social care. Truth is this should be a cabinet post, not a further downgraded one.”
Sue Bott, deputy chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “I share the concerns that others have expressed about what would appear to be the political downgrading of social care, both in the ministerial responsibility being more junior and the restructuring of the Department of Health itself, which means there is no longer a specific senior social care responsibility.
“Those of us involved in social care need to have a serious think about how we get over to the public the terrible experiences many disabled people and people with long-term health conditions are having as a result of funding cuts – being virtually institutionalised at home – given that the message is clearly not getting through to government.”
Lamb said on Twitter that the decision to downgrade the ministerial role seemed “quite extraordinary” because “confronting [the] massive challenge in social care will be critical in sustaining [the] NHS”.
A Department of Heath spokesman said the decision to make Mowat a junior minister “doesn’t mean social care is of any less importance to this government”.
He said: “It doesn’t mean there has been a downgrading of social care just because that minister has been given a different job title.
“The government is committed to social care. The commitments in place before the reshuffle are still there. The commitment to social care remains as strong as ever.”
He added: “When it comes down to it, it is probably because Philip Dunne [who was previously a minister of state in the Ministry of Defence] has had more experience across government during the time he has been elected as an MP.”
Picture: The Department of Health offices in Whitehall