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Liberal Democrat conference: New fears over care funding reform

Liberal Democrat conference: New fears over care funding reform
21st September 2011 developer

A Liberal Democrat minister has warned that a government social care white paper due next spring may not include long-awaited measures to reform the funding of support for disabled adults and older people.

Paul Burstow, the care services minister, told Disability News Service (DNS) that “definite proposals” on funding reform would only be included in the white paper if the government made “a lot of progress” over the next six months.

DNS revealed concerns in July that the white paper would not include proposals for funding reform, which would merely be relegated to a “progress report”.

Last week, the government announced a new “engagement exercise” aimed at hearing the views on social care reform of service-users, carers and those working in the social care industry, although it was accused of sidelining disabled people’s organisations from that process.

Burstow told DNS the results of the engagement exercise would “feed into the white paper process”.

He added: “What we have committed to is a progress report. If we make a lot of progress [on funding] there might be definite proposals – we will have to wait and see.”

His comments will add to concerns that Treasury ministers are not prepared to fund the recommendations outlined in July in the Dilnot commission on the funding of care and support, with rumours that the report was to be “strangled at birth”.

Burstow spoke several times during this week’s conference of the need for Liberal Democrats and the voluntary sector to push the coalition harder on the need for reform.

He told one fringe event: “I personally will feel let down by this party if this party isn’t as angry, challenging, as fierce about making sure we deliver our agenda on social care as we are on health.”

He told another fringe meeting: “It disappoints me that the party doesn’t see social care as important as healthcare.”

Lord [Victor] Adebowale, chief executive of the social care charity Turning Point, told the same meeting that he believed Burstow’s words were a “plea for help”.

He said: “It seems to me that perhaps what he is asking for is a bit more pressure on our politicians to show some leadership and to show some political leadership.”

Andrew Dilnot, who led the commission, told a third fringe meeting that campaigners needed to be “much more angry” in calling for reform of a “staggeringly stupid” and “mind-numbingly daft” system of social care funding.

He added: “At the moment… we are not making enough noise.”

He said: “We need to send a message to the politicians that if they let us down this time then really this time the gloves have to come off.”

But he did say he believed there was an “eight out of 10 chance” that most of his report would be implemented, although he said that “to do that you have to raise the political temperature.”

Norman Lamb MP, chief parliamentary and political advisor to the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, raised fears further by telling campaigners at the meeting that “the pressure has to be maintained on us”.

He said he believed reform would only happen if the Labour party was “fully on board as part of the process”.

Burstow’s call for his party to show more interest in the issue was highlighted by a conference hall that was barely a quarter full for most of a social care debate the following morning.

He told the debate that the party would be “letting down disabled people, older people and vulnerable people in this country” if it did not secure reform, and that it needed to find “the passion, the will and the drive” to ensure it happened, and must hold the government’s “feet to the fire” on the issue.

He added: “We should be the engine on reform of social care, not the brakes.”

The conference passed a motion – apparently unanimously – calling on the government to use the Dilnot commission recommendations as a basis for reforming the funding of the social care system.