David Cameron Sparks Row Over New Care Plans

(Telegraph) – THE CONSERVATIVES SPARKED A BITTER POLITICAL ROW last night by claiming two million pensioners would lose out under new Labour plans to reform the system of elderly care.

David Cameron seized on the Government’s Queen’s Speech proposals which ministers maintain will help 300,000 pensioners get free personal care at home.

The Conservative leader warned that establishing a national care service, which Gordon Brown announced in his party conference speech, would mean scrapping the attendance allowance and the disability living allowance.

The Tories claimed that up to 2.4 million pensioners would lose around £60-a-week — the equivalent of more than £3,000 a year — which in some cases could be as much as a quarter of their income.

Mr Cameron said: ‘It is a good idea to help people in their homes but the Prime Minister appears to be proposing to abolish these benefits that people rely on.’

The Tories claimed the money the Government saved on not paying the benefits would be used to fund the £670 million costs of the new scheme, which is designed to provide free home care for 280,000 elderly and disabled people who need help to carry out basic functions such as dressing, getting out of bed and using the lavatory.

Another 130,000 frail patients are to receive support on leaving hospital, with improvements such as grab rails and panic buttons. At the moment, home care is means tested so that anyone with savings of more than £23,000 has to pay for care. Under the new scheme, people will qualify on the basis of need.

The Conservatives point to comments by Andy Burnham, the Health Secretary, in July in which he said ‘the costs of care can be better spent by combining investment in social care with disability benefits, particularly attendance allowance.’

However, Mr Burnham, reacted furiously to the Conservative claim that benefits for the elderly would have to be cut to pay for it and accused Mr Cameron of scaremongering and ‘gutter politics.’ He insisted that the cost of his plans would be met from within the Department of Health’s budget.

He told the BBC’s World at One: ‘It is really gutter politics to raise concerns among some of the most vulnerable people in our society that their benefits will be cut. This suggestion — I just find it offensive.

‘It is possible that we could reform attendance allowance as part of our plans for a national care service. That is a proposal on which we are consulting in our green paper.

‘But let me also be clear, we have said that anybody who is in receipt of those benefits would get an equivalent level of support.’

However, Mr Burnham also faced stinging criticism from his own side when Lord Lipsey, a former member of the Royal Commission on Long-Term Care, accused ministers of pre-empting the consultation process that was still under way on future care provision.

The veteran Labour peer said: ‘In the middle of the consultation on that, in one of the most disorderly pieces of government I have ever seen in 40 years of political life, the Prime Minister has declared that it is Government policy that people with severe care needs in their own home should be paid for in full.

‘I think that is a bad policy but I think it is also a bad way to do policy just to find a nice highlight for your Labour Party conference speech. I am afraid that what has happened is that into this very complicated but important policy process, has been injected something that is just a bit of a gimmick.’

In the face of the attack from both a respected Labour peer and the Conservatives, the Prime Minister was forced to defend the policy.

Speaking on ITV’s This Morning Mr Brown said: ‘This is a major breakthrough because for the first time people of whatever income, so we don’t need a means test on this, if you have got special and urgent needs…we will help you stay in your own home and you will not have to go into institutional care by providing not just medical care but providing the home help care and the help with clothes and cooking and cleaning and everything else.’