Government’s social care plans side-line needs of working-age people

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The government has announced plans for a social care green paper that side-line both the needs of working-age disabled people and their user-led organisations, say frustrated campaigners.

Damian Green, the first secretary of state, said the government would publish a much-delayed green paper on “care and support for older people” by next summer – the government had previously said it would be published by the end of this year – but made no mention in a press statement of the needs of working-age disabled people.

In the same statement, health secretary Jeremy Hunt said the government was “committed to reforming social care to ensure we can guarantee everyone dignity and security in old age”.

Green also announced the names of a 12-strong team of “independent experts” chosen to advise the government on the green paper, none of whom are disabled people or represent user-led organisations.

It was only in a written parliamentary statement that Green said there would be “a parallel programme of work” on issues affecting working-age adults with care needs, to be led by the Department of Health (DH) and the Department for Communities and Local Government.

This work will be overseen by the same group of ministers responsible for the development of the green paper.

But DH has been unable to tell Disability News Service (DNS) what kind of report this parallel programme of work will produce – if any – or if its conclusions will be included in the green paper.

In August, the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities warned that the UK was “going backwards” on independent living, and called on the government to draw up a “comprehensive plan” to address the problem.

And all three main UK parties were criticised during this year’s general election campaign for ignoring the needs of working-age social care recipients – responsible for nearly half the annual spending on adult social care – and focusing instead on older people.

But there was no mention of social care in this week’s budget (see separate story), despite some new funding for the NHS.

A survey of social workers in England, published in September, found more than two-thirds felt they were expected to cut people’s care packages because of local authority funding pressures, while more than a quarter were not confident that the reduced care packages they had to oversee were “fair and safe”.

Sue Bott, deputy chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said she felt “completely frustrated” by the government’s green paper announcement. 

She said: “Although we are promised a workstream looking at social care for younger people, it is clear it is almost entirely about older people and how much they should pay. 

“How else do you explain the list of experts that contains not one disabled person or anyone knowledgeable and committed to the choice and control agenda. 

“This isn’t about kicking social care into the long grass, it’s kicking it over the hills and far away. 

“The government also seem not to have learnt anything from the recommendations of the [UN] committee that there needs to be better engagement with disabled people on all areas of policy. 

“I would urge the government to listen to the concerns of the 90 MPs who have raised social care as an urgent issue to be resolved and to listen to the many voices of disabled people who are highlighting how the inadequacies of the current system are blighting our opportunities to live and participate as equal citizens.”

Ellen Clifford, campaigns and policy manager for Inclusion London, said: “Given the extent of the social care crisis facing working-age disabled adults, there is deep disappointment that the green paper will only focus on older people.  

“However, we know that the government’s real interest is in finding ways to make disabled people pay for their own care.

“This may be possible for older people who own their own homes but not for many working-age disabled people, many of whom are living in poverty.

“They have effectively devolved away responsibility for the right to independent living to local authorities.

“If central government starts expecting more from local authorities, then local authorities will respond with demanding the funding to meet those expectations.

“It’s an issue that they would simply rather avoid. We have to make sure they can’t escape it.”

Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, said: “What is perhaps most surprising about the government’s social care green paper proposals is that so many commentators seem to be treating them at face value.

“What they really represent is a terminally broken government’s own recognition that it is in no position to sort out long-term policies for anything.

“The government and its ministers can hardly have much confidence in their own long-term future let along making proposals for social care’s.

“What is really distressing is the continuing and complete absence of disabled people and other service-users, and our user-led organisations, grassroots carers and face-to-face practitioners in their team of ‘expert advisers’.

“As for the failure to include working-age disabled people in the green paper’s consideration and the Department of Health’s subsequent silence on the matter, we can get some idea of what’s in ministerial minds from the recent House of Commons debate on social care.

“The minister repeatedly emphasized the part more welfare reform – aka brutal and harsh cuts in welfare benefits – is clearly playing in the government’s future thinking. 

“It won’t be this government that offers serious proposals for the future of social care, but the next one will have to.”

Barbara Keeley, Labour’s shadow social care minister, accused the government of “dragging its feet over the long-term funding of social care”, and added: “Alarmingly, it also does not appear that the green paper will consult on working-age people with social care needs.”

For the Liberal Democrats, Norman Lamb accused the government of “kicking the can further down the road, leaving the social care sector in a state of uncertainty”.

He later released a letter to the prime minister, signed by 90 cross-party MPs, including 22 former ministers and six former secretaries of state, calling on the government to establish an NHS and Care Convention to find “a sustainable long-term settlement for these services”.

Asked what its working-age programme would produce, a Department of Health spokeswoman said: “The government is committed to listening to a wide range of views, including those of service-users and carers, in taking forward this work, and we will be guided by our findings in determining appropriate next steps.

“There’s nothing else we can add at this stage.”

She had said in an earlier statement: “We are not ignoring people of working-age. We recognise that people of working-age with care needs face a number of challenges and that there are many common questions about the sustainability of the care system.

“That is why we intend to take forward a parallel piece of work, led by the Department of Health and Department for Communities and Local Government, to consider the issues facing those of working-age in parallel to the engagement on care and support for older people. 

“This work will report to the inter-ministerial group, alongside work for older people.

“The green paper will focus primarily on reform of care for older people, but will consider the interdependencies between different groups.

“We will engage with representatives of service-users in a range of ways.”