Gordon Brown’s care plan misleads the elderly, say councils

More than 70 leaders of social care throughout England are warning that the Government’s plans to provide free home care are flawed, unfunded and will force cuts to current services.

Writing in a letter to The Times, the councillors, representing all three major parties and every geographical region, describe Gordon Brown’s key electoral pledge as ill conceived and likely to put considerable pressure on the social services system.

The letter marks an intensification of the revolt over the Personal Care at Home Bill, the Government’s controversial policy unveiled last year. Critics have accused the Prime Minister of introducing it as a “back-ofthe-envelope” piece of electioneering, underestimating both its cost and how many people would use it.

“We fully support the principle of providing additional support to those with the most critical care needs,” the signatories write. “What we cannot support, however, is a piece of legislation that has major weaknesses and which risks adding further strain to an existing system already under considerable financial pressure.”

It concludes: “It is also wrong to raise expectations among many of the most vulnerable in our society and their families that they may be in a position to benefit from these proposals when the reality may be significantly different.”

The annual cost of the Bill is put at £670 million, which ministers say will allow 400,000 people with the highest needs to stay in their own homes. Of this total, £420 million is to come from existing Department of Health budgets, with local authorities told that they must provide the remaining £250 million from efficiency savings.

It has provoked fierce criticism over the way it was sprung on Parliament and the public midway through consultations over the development of a major legislative programme on long-term care. It is understood that the Treasury also has private concerns about how the Bill would be paid for.

Local authorities, which are already facing multimillion-pound annual efficiency savings, say that it will require each social care provider to find a further £3 million to £10 million.

David Finch, the Conservative chairman of social care at Essex County Council, said that all councillors were in agreement about the impact this would have on current services, including programmes already running to help people to live independently for as long as possible.

“I haven’t heard a single differing voice,” he said. “It’s not that the idea is not valid. It is that the way it is being implemented has not been thought through in any way. This is going to mean funds are diverted from needy adult social care services in order to finance this package.

“[The Government] is providing the public with all sorts of goodies. It comes as no coincidence that a general election is just around the corner and then suddenly all these promises are appearing,” Mr Finch said.

Home care for those with critical needs, such as the elderly and cancer sufferers, has already been marked out as a key battleground for the general election. This week the Prime Minister, his Health Secretary Andy Burnham and Andrew Lansley, the Conservative health spokesman, have all held press conferences on the issue.

The Care Quality Commission, the health and social care regulator, is expected to call for more co-ordinated reform and integration when it publishes its annual report this morning.

The 78 signatories represented in the letter to The Times cover almost every county. Three of the five Labour-controlled councils represented on the list contacted The Times last night to request that names be removed. Mr Burnham’s office denied that any pressure had been placed on the authorities.

Phil Hope, the Care Services Minister, said that it was “extremely disappointing” that councillors supported the principles of the Bill, but would “quibble and complain and find reasons not to make it happen”.

“Care recipients in these council areas will be shocked that local authorities are apparently unable to find efficiencies to deliver this priority when significant funding is being provided by the Government,” he said.