Green Light For Care Law Overhaul

Ministers are giving the go-ahead for a fundamental reform of the “perplexing” law governing adult social care in England and Wales, pulling together more than 30 acts of parliament passed over 60 years.

The overhaul will aim also to rid the statute book of outdated and demeaning terms, such as “dumb and crippled persons”, “handicapped” and “suffer[ing] from congenital deformity”.

The reform has been proposed by the Law Commission, which today publishes a scoping report on the need for change. It says the law is a perplexing structure further confused by a vast array of case law, “soft” law, regulations and directions.

Kenneth Parker QC, the commissioner leading the project, said: “We have formed a provisional view that the law is unduly complex and complicated and very much ripe for reform.”

Although the 150-page report makes the case for change, Parker told the Guardian that the government had already indicated it would approve the plan – with one qualification – and would instruct the commission to proceed.

Social care law is based on the 1948 National Assistance Act, which is the only statute still in force from the Beveridge blueprint for the welfare state. The act is couched in outdated terminology and was designed for an era when care was overwhelmingly institutional.

The commission intends not only to consolidate and modernise existing law, but to propose a set of statutory principles to direct and assist local councils that are responsible for its application.

The one idea being rejected by ministers is for establishment of a community care tribunal to hear complaints referred up from local level.

Parker said: “They regard the present system as appropriate and adequate and don’t want us to expend any further energy on that. We believe it’s sensible to seek to work in a cooperative way and we are getting 99% support for our report.”

The commission aims to publish full recommendations for consultation in about 12 months. A final report and legislative bill would follow 12 months after that.

The process will be simultaneous with the government’s planned green paper on a new settlement for funding long-term care and support, but Parker said commission staff would be liaising closely with health department officials to ensure the two streams of work were harmonised.