An inquiry that will have significant influence on Labour’s policy on independent living at the next general election is set to rule out scrapping care charges, according to a document leaked to Disability News Service.
The document, a summary of a draft working paper prepared by the Fabian Society, makes a series of proposals for reforms to adult social care in England.
But the last line of the final section of the document, on charging, says only that there would be an “aspiration” to reduce care charges “over time”.
The proposals are intended to be a “roadmap” towards a National Care Service, and the paper will feed into Labour’s policy review in the run-up to the next general election, reporting to shadow health and social care secretary Wes Streeting.
Its authors are now consulting on the draft plans, but if the failure to call for an end to care charges is confirmed it will be the third recent inquiry linked to Labour that has failed to issue a clear and urgent demand for such a policy.
Among other draft proposals, the Fabian document suggests that a National Care Service should provide a new right to independent living, with a duty to co-produce policy “at all levels” and funding for peer-to-peer organisations.
There should also be a 10-year commitment by a Labour prime minister and chancellor to increase spending on social care by at least six to seven per cent above inflation each year, with “many more people receiving support than today, and people receiving more support to meet their needs”.
It also suggests that the care workforce will need to grow by about 50 per cent over eight to 10 years.
The first priority on charging, it says, should be “a more generous means-test of income and assets, including a higher minimum income guarantee and personal expenses allowance”, but there would only be an “aspiration” to reduce charges over time alongside “increased state contributions”.
Mark Harrison, a member of the steering group of Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA), was critical of the document’s failure to address the “inequity of social care charging”.
He said: “ROFA believes charging for social care is regressive and is a tax on disability.
“If it is to truly be a national care service it needs to be free at the point of use, like the NHS.”
He said ROFA was concerned at the “timidity of the approach” and “lack of ambition” and the failure to co-produce the document with disabled people.
He said: “Personalisation is in tatters. Direct payments, self-directed support and increased choice and control have all been abandoned to cuts and the tyranny of austerity.
“ROFA has coproduced our proposals for a National Independent Living Service (NILS) with users of social care based on evidence of best practise and achieving better outcomes for disabled people of all ages.”
NILS would provide a universal right to independent living that was “enshrined in law”, and would introduce free social care in England, funded by national and progressive taxation.
But Harrison said: “Instead of adopting our proposals, the Fabians have chosen a pick ‘n mix approach.
“Whilst providing an improvement on what we have today, this roadmap to a National Care Service fails to deliver on key fundamentals.”
Harrison said that without a significant upfront investment in adult social care, “people will continue to die on waiting lists – waiting for assessments, waiting for services, waiting in ambulances outside hospitals or unable to leave institutions because of lack of community-based alternatives.
“The acceptance that social care is for profit and that the private sector will continue to dominate is a missed opportunity.”
He said ROFA was about to relaunch NILS and hoped the Labour frontbench “will engage with us to deliver this”.
A Fabian Society spokesperson said: “The Fabian Society consulted with disabled people’s organisations by sharing a working paper setting out some of our early thinking.
“This document stated that it did not contain our final recommendations.
“We have listened to disabled people and our proposals will be different from those in the paper in a number of important ways.
“Our proposals on charging are still being developed.”
Labour had failed to respond to requests to comment by noon today (Thursday).
Although Streeting has previously stated that he asked the Fabian Society to carry out the review, the left-leaning thinktank said this week that it was commissioned and funded by the public service union Unison and that its views were “those of the authors, not Unison or the Labour party”.
Streeting has made it clear that his party will prioritise increasing the wages of care workers above the need to eliminate care charges, if it wins power at the next general election.
Despite those comments, party members approved a motion at last autumn’s Labour conference that called for a National Care Service that was co-produced with service-users, publicly funded, and free of charge.
Labour’s party conference in 2019 approved plans for a NILS model for social care reform, which was backed by Labour leader Keir Starmer during his Labour leadership campaign three years ago.
But Labour has since backed away from the idea of free social care, with the party’s shadow leader of the Commons, Thangam Debbonaire, telling female party members in 2021 that introducing free social care for disabled and older people would just “give the Tories a stick to beat Labour with”.
Research by disabled campaigners has shown tens of thousands of disabled people across the country every year are having debt collection action taken against them by their local authorities over unpaid care charges.
Meanwhile, Tower Hamlets council in east London has become the second local authority in England to decide to scrap all charges for care at home (see separate story).
Picture: Mark Harrison (left) and Wes Streeting
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