Government plans to provide free personal care at home for users with high needs have thrown into reverse its efforts to persuade the public of the need to contribute to their future care costs, warns Richard Humphries at the King's Fund. He says that the current Personal Care at Home Bill has created an impression that free care could be provided without extra cost, difficult choices or contentious trade-offs.
Humphries went further in saying that the legislation has reversed the Department of Health's efforts to wean the public off an uncritical reliance on general taxation as the solution to all funding problems, "The DH carried out two extensive public engagement exercises to embed the idea that, one way or another, we have to dig deeper into our pockets to pay for an ageing society. The unexpected promise of free care at home, accompanied by a sudden conjuring up of £670m from central cuts and council efficiencies - without any apparent, real impact on existing priorities or reducing services - sends an entirely contrary message. This is not an honest or respectful foundation on which to build the radical reform of care funding; we can't go on like this."
The government's Personal Care at Home Bill received its third reading unopposed, but must now secure the backing of the House of Lords if it is to become law before the general election, which must happen by 3 June and is tipped to take place on 6 May.
Three question marks hang over the policy: whether it will be adequately funded; whether it will make the system more unfair for those whose needs fell just short of highest or could not be met at home; and whether, by providing free care for about 270,000 people it will jeopardise wider reform for the 1.8m people who rely on care and support services in England.
Long term care: News update: 17 January 2010