Government conference aims for consensus on social care funding


Disabled people’s organisations, social care bodies and charities were due to meet today (Friday) for a government conference that aimed to seek a consensus on the future funding of adult social care.

The conference was announced by health secretary Andy Burnham, following heated public discussions over possible government plans for a new inheritance tax to help fund adult social care.

Secret discussions aimed at building consensus between the three main parties broke down, with the Conservatives and Labour accusing each other of wrecking the talks, and the Conservatives launching an advertising campaign featuring a gravestone with the inscription “R.I.P. OFF”.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said Burnham had called the conference to “try and find a way forward, to build a consensus”.

In a letter to delegates, Burnham said there was a “growing recognition” that the current system was “unsustainable and unfair”.

He said there was “broad agreement” among the three parties that a new system should feature “national entitlements to replace the lottery of local eligibility rules” and “maximum” personalisation, and should not be funded entirely through general taxation but “through a partnership between the individual and the state”.

But he said one of the “difficult decisions” they faced was “to what extent should we reform disability benefits for older people into a single care and support system”.

Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) have fiercely criticised plans to abolish attendance allowance and disability living allowance for those over 65 and “integrate” the savings into council budgets to help pay for means-tested social care.

DPOs invited to the conference included the National Centre for Independent Living and RADAR, while Burnham also invited Baroness [Jane] Campbell, who has campaigned in the Lords for disabled people to have greater choice and control over their support.

Disability charities invited included Mencap, Leonard Cheshire Disability, Mind and Rethink.

One prominent disability organisation that was not invited was Disability Alliance, which has played a leading role in discussions with the government over reform and chairs the Coalition on Charging.

Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance, said they were “very disappointed” not to be included as a “key stakeholder” in the debate.

He said the inheritance tax proposals could be a “step towards a free National Care Service delivered on the same terms as the NHS”.

But he added: “We believe there is a lot more that could be done with existing taxation and the existing social services budget.

“How it is funded is of lesser importance than securing outcomes for individual disabled people.”

18 February 2010

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