Free Home Care Debate

Last July Phil Hope the Care Minister launched a Green paper on how do we as a nation pay for care home provision for our aging population, and Councils and other organisations were given a December date by which to reply with what we thought. To be fair whilst the paper is fundamentally flawed it has in part raised this important subject of how we are going to pay for the Care of our ageing population up the agenda from what was previously a bit of a foot note in the overall Health debate, to front and centre on last week’s Prime Ministers Questions.

At it’s Local Government Association launch which I attended, when asked, why it was being published without financial costings of each model proposed. An uncomfortable Phil Hope and his team said the figures would be published shortly, which I and the rest of the room found to be quite staggering that a consultation was being launched without figures.

By the time I attended the Adult and Children’s Care Conference in Harrogate in late October, the costing had become something of a running joke and when pressed Phil Hope and his Civil Servant again promised that they were about to be published to quite a lot of laughter in the main Conference room. Surprise, surprise the deadline came and went and we still have not got the figures!

Another Surprise was to be had during the Party Conference season when Gordon Brown took everyone by surprise when he announced ‘free home care for all’. Putting aside which coloured Rosette you wear, it was perfectly clear to those in the know that this bright idea was thought up by 10 Downing Street with no reference to Phil Hope’s department, otherwise it would have be a corner stone of the Green paper.

So yet again we see another example of policy ‘on the hoof’, badly drafted, ill timed and far more worryingly when they did eventually publish some figures almost all organisations involved in the delivery of care have questioned firstly the estimated low numbers the government says will take up the free service, then the amount of money the government claimed they were going to put into it, and the unbelievable efficiency savings local social services are meant to make up this gap.

To give you an example of this Suffolk’s cost of this is more than £10 million a year irrespective of our grave concerns as to the numbers that leaves us with a minimum of £3.5 million a year shortfall, which we are to fund from efficient savings. Yet Suffolk is the second most cost efficient Council in Britain, yes there is more we can do and are doing but we have exceeded every Government target in the last five years when the Government itself has never hit any of their own, all this at a time when we are seeing a annual a 3% growth in the over 65 population per year and a growing demand for services year on year.

In response a small group of like minded Portfolio Holders and I decided beyond the formal consolation responses that always seems to be sent and filed away never to see the light of day again, we would try to raise our concerns to a wider audience and write to The Times and frankly our aspiration were little more than hopefully, fingers crossed, they would publish it; and to help it on its way we would circulate it to our fellow Portfolio Holders across England to see if they would be happy to sign it to give it some weight (over 70 did).

To our delight the Times decided that this was, as we felt, an important story and reported it on the Front Page of the Times on Wednesday February 10th with the Headline of ‘Councils say Brown care plan misleads the elderly’ with a sub heading of ‘Free home service won’t work, leaders tell the Times’. So from us crossing our fingers that our grave concerns would at least get published to front page was wonderful and a mark of how important this subject actually is.

As an amusing side note there certainly is moral tale to be had in that you should always check what you are putting your name to as five of those who signed the letter were labour Councillors who the following day, rather sheepishly, had to withdraw their names presumable after a call for Labour’s high command!

Following on from the front page story, I had a call from a reporter and an in-depth piece was done on what the costs would be for Suffolk and how we might pay for them. Beyond an analysis of the shortfall in government funding, the bigger concern remains as to how many people who currently take care of them own care needs will seek out the Free service offer, we believe the government and as was proven in Scotland, have grossly underestimated the numbers.

Then of course, politics being politics, the story rapidly moved on to the ‘Death Tax’ argument. Putting aside my firm believe that the Conservatives will bring forward a workable more sensible set of proposals on this most difficult of subjects I am delighted to have helped play a small part in seeing this difficult and important subject come to the fore, Nobody is arguing against the case for high-quality care for the people who need it, whether that be in your own home or a Residential Care Home suited to your particular needs. What we now need is an intelligent look at how we should pay for this as a country, not individual knee-jerk pieces of legislation.

About askcolinnoble
I'm a Conservative politician-lite, I dabble a bit in Party Politics with my main focus of working hard and being a strong voice for my community making sure local government delivers quality services and fellow residents get value for money for their hard earned money they pay in Council tax | Where this Gravatar appears and I am expressing my views or liking something I do so in a personal capacity and does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of Suffolk County Council, Forest Heath District Council, the Conservative Party or come to think of it anyone else | But having said the above at an election time and to stay legal anything I write is promoted by Kerry Buist on behalf of Colin Noble, both at West Suffolk Conservative Association, Unit 8, Swan Lane Business Park, Exning, Newmarket, Suffolk CB8 7FN

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