Ministers have quietly decided to include the support needs of working-age disabled people in their new social care green paper, scrapping the idea of having a separate “parallel programme of work” as they try to address the social care funding crisis.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) previously said it would focus only on older people’s social care in its much-delayed green paper.
The decision to include working-age people’s support needs is likely to be welcomed by most disabled people’s organisations, but DHSC is still facing questions over why it reversed its decision at such a late stage and why it has apparently failed to make any effort to co-produce its policy with disabled people and their user-led organisations.
There are also still concerns over whether the green paper will side-line the support needs of working-age disabled people when it is eventually published.
As recently as last month, a House of Commons Library briefing paper referred to the government’s “parallel process” of work on social care for working-age adults.
But a DHSC spokeswoman has now told DNS that the green paper will “cover care and support for adults of all ages (rather than there being a separate workstream)”.
When questioned further about this, she said: “We have always planned to consider issues relating to all adults receiving social care.
“This will now be taken forward through a single green paper.”
She declined to comment when asked why the government had made this decision, but said disabled people and their organisations – and other “interested parties” – would be able to feed in their views in a consultation on the green paper, when it is published.
The disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell (pictured), who chairs the Independent Living Strategy Group, told Disability News Service (DNS): “It would have been nice to be informed of this decision to scrap the parallel process by my fellow parliamentarians in the House of Lords, especially as I had asked formally on two occasions for any progress on the ‘parallel process’.
“So much for close collaboration with disabled people on matters that concern them directly!”
But she welcomed the decision to integrate working-age people into the green paper, which she hoped would be on an equal basis with older people.
She said: “This way, disabled people will not be a tag on, or afterthought, but have full green paper status.
“This is how it should be and something I said most firmly at the first meeting of ‘stakeholders’ with the ministers for disabled people [Sarah Newton], social care [Caroline Dinenage] and local government [Rishi Sunak].”
Baroness Campbell said that this meeting, in February, was the “first and only time” she has been consulted on the government’s social care plans.
She was also highly critical of the plans to simply consult disabled people after the green paper has been published, partly because she has been “highly sceptical of any consultation this government has conducted on pretty much any issue recently”.
She added: “Whatever happened to the progress we made with governments over the last 20 years on co-production, mutuality and equal involvement from the prototype stage?
“Disabled people don’t want to be consulted about policies which will determine the way they live, we want partnerships. Remember: ‘nothing about us, without us!’”
The disabled Liberal Democrat peer Baroness [Celia] Thomas, who speaks for her party on disability in the Lords and is also a member of the Independent Living Strategy Group, said there was continuing “despair” over when the green paper would eventually be published.
She said the news that working-age disabled people would now be included in the green paper “could be good news [but]it could be bad news” as it could either mean a “breath of fresh air” or signify that working-age disabled people will be “an after-thought”.
She added: “Everyone is in the dark.”
The news of the government U-turn emerged following a freedom of information request submitted by DNS, which had asked which committees and working groups had been set up as part of the parallel process, and which organisations were represented on them.
The department said in its response that “no such committees or formal working groups including stakeholders have been set up” as part of its work on working-age social care.
But she said the government had “engaged informally with a number of stake-holders and the insights from this work will inform the social care green paper”.
A DHSC spokeswoman declined to say which organisations it had engaged with, but she said: “We are grateful for the input of stakeholders to the work we have done to date and there will be an opportunity for all interested parties to feed in views through the green paper consultation process.”
DNS reported in March how the government had failed to set up a single committee involving experts from outside the two departments examining the future of working-age social care – DHSC and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government – nearly four months after the parallel programme of work had been announced.
The previous month, ministers had faced criticism after organising a “round table” event on working-age social care without inviting any disabled people’s organisations to attend.
The green paper has always been described by ministers as a document that would lay out the government’s proposals for the future funding of older people’s social care, with a separate programme of work looking at the care needs of working-age disabled people.
But there have been repeated concerns that the government was failing to make any progress on this parallel process and failing to engage with disabled people and their user-led organisations.
The much-delayed green paper is set to be published this autumn.
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