‘Free care’ pledge comes under attack by Kent County Council

Government plans to bring in free care for elderly and disabled people could leave Kent County Council with a £22million financial headache.

Social services chiefs have warned that the plans, due to come into effect from October this year, could result in cuts to services elsewhere and higher council tax bills.

They say the money being offered by the Government to cover the costs of the initiative is not enough and will leave the authority out of pocket.

KCC also fears there are likely to be legal challenges from people who believe they should qualify for free care but do not, leaving the authority engaged in protracted legal disputes.

Cllr Graham GibbensCllr Graham Gibbens (Con), KCC cabinet member for adult services, accused the Government of rushing through the legislation so it could exploit the pledge for free care in the run up to the election.

“The reality is that the Government will only be able to pay for this through cuts in the NHS and higher council tax bills. We really have serious misgivings about this and the plans have not been sufficiently costed and assessed,” he told a meeting of KCC’s Conservative cabinet (Monday 1).

He added: “It does seem to me that this whole process is being rushed through. If the Government wants to develop this policy, there really should be a pilot. It is being pushed forward for electoral gain.”

Under the plans, hundreds more people would qualify for free care provided to them in their homes by carers although those in residential care homes would not be eligible. The scheme is being modelled on a similar policy developed in Scotland.

KCC believes it would get between £5million and £6million in Government grant to pay for it but that would fall well short of what would be needed, saying it might have to find anything between £9million and £22million extra.

Cllr Gibbens said the Government had miscalculated the number of hours of care that might be needed for each person as the basis for what it planned to give authorities.

Ministers have assumed an average care package could be met by providing six and a half hours of care a week at a cost of about £100 but most social services directors believe the actual costs will be double that.