Labour ‘very happy’ to engage in cross-party talks on social care reform

Labour has insisted it is “very happy” to be involved in social care reform talks, as the Health Secretary pledged to provide for both older and younger people.

Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth was asked by Tory former minister Mark Harper if the Opposition would engage in cross-party social care talks even before a successor to Jeremy Corbyn is chosen.

Mr Ashworth replied: “We are very happy to engage.”

He said shadow health minister Barbara Keeley, who is in the shadow cabinet, is “happy to sit down with ministers at any point”.

He also claimed there is a “degree of political consensus” already on free adult personal social care – albeit not from Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

Mr Ashworth also warned Conservative MPs they risk guaranteeing in law “four more years of under-funding” for the NHS if they support the Government’s NHS Funding Bill.

Labour tabled an amendment to the Queen’s Speech which called for the Government to bring forward a plan and additional funding to “end the crisis in social care and provide for at least a 4% per year real terms increase in health spending”.

Mr Ashworth said: “Every Tory MP, if they can believe in the NHS, should support our amendment today.

“(Mr Hancock) is enshrining in law four more years of under-funding of our National Health Service, four more years of capped expenditure in our National Health Service.”

Mr Hancock rubbished criticism of the Government’s spending plans and also confirmed the social care proposals the Government is working on “do include solutions both for the provision of social care to older people and retired people and people as they decline in the latter years of life, and for people of working age”.

Mr Harper (Forest of Dean) had asked Mr Hancock to confirm that the Government’s social care plan “will cover both older people and those of working age, and probably will entail different solutions for those two groups of people”.

Mr Hancock added: “I hope on social care that we can reach a broad consensus.”

Ms Keeley said that during the last Queen’s Speech she told Mr Hancock that Labour “would be willing to sit down and talk about this”.

Mr Hancock replied that a health minister wrote to Ms Keeley after the election but received no reply, adding: “We are up for this conversation as the Prime Minister has been absolutely clear, and I hope we can do it in the spirit of cross-party consensus.”

Discussing the Opposition’s amendment, Mr Hancock said: “It calls for reform to social care and to bring forward a plan, well that’s precisely what this Queen’s Speech provides for, and it calls for a plan and additional funding for the NHS, and that is precisely what we’re legislating for.”

Conservative Damian Green, who previously acted as deputy to Theresa May during her time as prime minister, warned ministers against “reaching for the simplest and easiest solutions” when it comes to funding social care reforms.

He said: “The easy solution is just to say we will make it free and we’ll fund it out of general taxation. It’s easy and seductive because many people think social care is free anyway, but it’d be wrong and unfair – not wrong just because of the spending implications but for inter-generational fairness.”

Mr Green suggested having a “universal care entitlement”, with people also urged to voluntarily save for a “care supplement” – in the manner they do for a private pension.

Tory former health minister Steve Brine also said there remains “a big job to be done” on the NHS pensions issue, in particular with regards to rota issues.

A report in The Times suggests the Treasury is considering a change to the annual allowance threshold to stop doctors in the NHS facing unexpected pension tax bills.

Mr Hancock replied: “We have already delivered on the commitment in the manifesto to start a process to end the problems caused with the interaction of tax laws passed in the last Parliament but one and the NHS pension scheme.”

He added that health ministers have met with officials from the BMA and said the Government is “working on it very urgently”.

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