Labour has dodged a promise made 12 months ago that it would produce a policy on whether it would reduce or scrap care charges if it wins power at the next general election.
Shadow health and social care secretary Wes Streeting promised the party was “working on it”, when asked by Disability News Service (DNS) 12 months ago what a Labour government would promise on care charges during its first term in government.
But – a year on – there was no mention of care charges in Streeting’s speech to conference yesterday (Wednesday).
Instead, he said a Labour government would “grip the immediate crisis in social care, starting with the workforce”, providing a “New Deal for Care Workers” as the “first step on our 10-year plan for a National Care Service”.
When DNS asked the new shadow social care minister Andrew Gwynne (pictured) earlier in the week what progress had been made in the last 12 months, he said he had only been in the job for four weeks and still needed a “handover” on policy from his predecessor, Liz Kendall, who has been promoted to shadow work and pensions secretary.
Only minutes earlier, Gwynne had been telling an enthusiastic fringe meeting – organised by the Future Social Care Coalition – that he wanted to be remembered by Labour party members as “the Nye Bevan of the 21st century” for building a new National Care Service if Labour wins power.
But Gwynne made no mention of care charges in his speech – focusing instead on “professionalising” social care and supporting carers – even though the party has been told repeatedly that tens of thousands of disabled people every year are having debt collection action taken against them over unpaid care charges, and that disabled people view charges as “a tax on disability”.
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham – who has supported the disabled people’s campaign to abolish care charges, part of the new Disabled People’s Manifesto – told the meeting that social care should be provided “free at the point of use”.
He said: “I think it’s absolutely an abomination actually that any disabled person has to pay charges for the support that they receive.
“Let’s take away the fear of that cost from social care.”
When told by DNS after his speech that disabled people view care charges as a tax on disability and that the issue was causing widespread concern, Gwynne said: “I get that. It’s something I am acutely aware of as being an issue.”
Speaking just yards from where Streeting made his promise to DNS 12 months ago, on Liverpool’s Mann Island dockside area, he said the issue had been raised with him by Vicky Foxcroft, the shadow minister for disabled people, “about how we get some kind of recognition of this issue into the policy-making process ahead of the manifesto”.
He said: “I’m aware of it and I will look at it. In terms of where Liz left off on this, I’m not sure yet.
“I’ve got to sit down with Liz, she’s doing a handover with me on a whole range of policies.”
His failure to offer any progress since last year’s pledge by Streeting follows a report by DNS which revealed that documents that will form the basis of the party’s next general election manifesto included no reference to scrapping care charges.
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats have promised to introduce free personal care for all adults if they win power at the next general election, although there are question-marks over key details of their pledge.
When DNS suggested that the care charges issue did not seem to be a priority for the party, Gwynne said: “Disabled people will always be a priority.
“What I’ve got to do is work out how the policy has been developed since you spoke to Wes and what steps I need to do to take that policy forward.”
He added: “You’ve caught me on the hoof about a specific issue.
“I need to sit down with Liz and go through all the policy handover and work out where the policy’s at and it may well be that there has to be discussions with the shadow Treasury team.
“I can’t make spending commitments on a dockside.”
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