Brown playing politics over care for elderly, says Lord Turnbull

Gordon Brown is playing politics over care for vulnerable elderly people, a former Cabinet Secretary told The Times last night.

Lord Turnbull of Enfield also said that the Prime Minister had made Andy Burnham, the Health Secretary, “look an ass” by pledging to extend free care at home, an option that had previously been ruled out.

The decision to help fund an estimated 400,000 mostly elderly people to stay at home has already been strongly criticised by Labour peers and council chiefs since it was announced in Mr Brown’s speech to the Labour’s Conference last September.

Social service chiefs warned at the weekend that it could cost at least £1 billion a year, well over the £670 million estimated by ministers. Critics also say that it could lead to patients receiving the wrong care because of financial incentives to stay at home.

But the Conservatives yesterday ducked out of a political fight on the issue as legislation setting up the scheme was expected to cleared its latest parliamentary hurdle. Instead, the Tories say that they will use the new laws to introduce their own reforms to social care if they win the next election.

Speaking before a House of Lords debate on the Personal Care at Home Bill, Lord Turnbull said that it had “all the hallmarks of someone in the coterie of No 10 pushing on this and, without thinking, going ahead with it.”

The peer, who was head of the Civil Service under Tony Blair, said that Mr Brown had adopted the new policy “out of the blue”. He said it was a “classic Gordon Brown dividing line”. “Instead of choosing proposal that is good, he chooses something that forces the opposition to make a choice — of either supporting it or being seen to reject care for people at home.”

He said that the “politically expedient” move had succeeded in forcing the Tories to put their “heads under the duvet and duck it”.

The attack comes after that by another former Cabinet Secretary, Lord Butler of Brockwell, who has been sharply critical of the way the Bill is being pushed through Parliament. The Tories were last night expected not to vote against its second reading in the Lords.

The Government was backed by a four major charities, however. Age Concern/Help the Aged, Carers UK, Parkinson’s Disease Society and Counsel and Care said, although imperfect, it was a “vital first step” in tackling the growing problem of how to fund care at home for the elderly.

“Care charges for those with critical needs are often a crippling cost to families already struggling with the financial impacts of illness or disability. This Bill would mark an historic end to means-testing and charging for some of the most vulnerable people in our society to provide for their most basic care needs,” read a joint statement issued by the charities.

A spokesman for Andrew Lansley, the Shadow Health Secretary, defended the Conservative decision not to oppose the legislation. The Tories have proposed introducing a new insurance scheme that would guarantee all care costs for an £8,000 premium. “We want the Bill to enable real reform of all areas of social care, in a way that is in keeping with the direction of the debate on reform. So we’re not opposed, but neither do we want this Bill to foreclose full reform, as it could in its current form.”

Lord Warner, a former health minister, described the policy as a “rash promise that may be very difficult to deliver”.

He said: “Promising elderly and vulnerable people and their families something which is not affordable or deliverable any time soon is a rather cruel deception and I certainly don’t want to have any part of it.”

The policy “would create a perverse incentive to have free personal home care rather than means-tested residential care”, he said.

The new law requires local authorities to provide free personal care indefinitely to people with the highest care needs, living at home. Means-tested care is already provided free to 80,000 older people, with 40,000 paying part of the cost, and another 50,000 paying the full cost.