West Briton column 16 May 2013

Who pays for care has vexed politicians for decades.

There has been no shortage of good ideas, based on evidence garnered from the many government reviews and commissions over many years, but there has been a failure in political will resulting in only limited action being taken.

However demographic change, and its impact, is now an issue that is moving rapidly up the political agenda. All parties are now signaling a desire for a long-term, all-party solution to our care crisis. It is clear that now is the time to take action.

During the debates on the Health and Social Care Bill there was little dissent from the view that the integration of health and social care is a good thing. In the Budget debate there was no opposition to NHS money being given to councils to integrate services. Over £26 million has been given to Cornwall Council since 2010 and more committed.

The independent Dilnot Review commissioned by this government was met by a broad coalition of support from a wide range of stakeholders, and was warmly welcomed by all political parties.

Week after week in parliamentary debates, colleagues and I have highlighted failings with today’s provision. The prospects of finding a long-term solution to the funding of long term care is better now than at any time in the past fifty years.

Who pays for care is just one of the questions the Government’s reforms of social care must address. There are issues of quality, regulation, training and pay as well as choice. It is vital to ensure that care and health services work closely together, and that our care laws are simplified to make it easier for people to get the help they need.

We must never forget that informal carers provide more support than any government could afford to pay for. The most recent research from the charity Carers UK estimates that there are more than six million carers in the UK. The care and support they provide to help people remain safely in their own homes is valued at a staggering £119bn per year, which is far more than the annual cost of all aspects of the NHS. Support to enable carers must be central to future provision of services.

The inclusion in the Queen’s Speech last week of a new Care and Support bill in this new session of parliament is a land mark occasion. The proposed bill has already undergone rigorous scrutiny. I have been working with charities including Macmillan and Scope on a series of recommendations on how it can be further improved. As it makes its way through Parliament I will continue to work with the team responsible for bringing in the new legislation to ensure that it improves care for elderly people, their family and carers. Also for working aged adults with disabilities who too often get forgotten about in this debate and who depend on care services to enable them to participate in family, community and work.

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