It can be tough being an ex-minister. One minute you have status, a minister’s red box and chauffeur, civil servants to command and policies to shape. The next you’re back on the bus. Some politicians never get over it, they lapse into bitterness or booze. When I caught up with Paul Burstow he seemed to be avoiding the potential pitfalls with a flurry of new year activity.
Burstow was appointed Lib Dem care minister in Andrew Lansley’s health team in May 2010. However, he was called in by Nick Clegg when David Cameron finally got round to his first planned reshuffle last September. Nothing personal, said Clegg, but I need to bring in new ministers and have limited options. I need your job.
‘Burstow feels Whitehall doesn’t “get” carers, either what they do or what respite help they need’
Burstow, MP for Sutton and Cheam since 1997, had been battling to get his officials more focused on care and carers. He was toying with making management in negligent care homes more accountable by way of criminalising corporate abuse and neglect − much as a Welsh mine manager has been charged with grossly negligent manslaughter over the death of four miners under Labour’s 2007 law.
His job was taken by Norman Lamb, the Clegg ally sidelined in 2010 to whom a promise of eventual office had probably been made. No worry there, Lamb has indicated he’s sympathetic to the idea. Burstow thinks there is a good chance that the joint committee now reviewing care will recommend it too, although the burden of proof will be higher than in civilian negligence claims.
To prod things in the right direction Burstow introduced a backbench Corporate Accountability and Safeguarding of Adults from Abuse and Neglect Bill last week, with cross-party and charity support. It would impose unlimited fines and remedial and publicity orders. But that has not been his only move this month.
Burstow edited and published a Centre Forum think tank report, Delivering Dilnot, designed to chivvy ministers to act on economist Andrew Dilnot’s recommendation that lifetime elderly care costs should be capped at around £35,000 (actually between £25,000, the workable minimum, and £50,000, which would protect moderate savers), with a means test on those with up to £100,000 of savings.
George Osborne thinks Dilnot would cost too much in austere times and that the cap should be £75,000, which is handier for the better off. The £50,000-£60,000 cap that Burstow proposes would cost over £1bn, which he wants funded by an end to the winter fuel allowance for all but the poorest. It’s tricky: universal benefits are popular.
‘Burstow’s next target is mental health. You can see how his brain joins up the policy strands’
If that weren’t all, he and allies, Labour ex-minister Hazel Blears and Kent Tory Tracey Crouch, also organised a full Commons debate on what David Cameron identified last March as the “dementia challenge” − one million sufferers by 2020. Its Cinderella research funds were given an extra £20m only the other day. Yet Burstow feels that Whitehall doesn’t “get” carers, either what they do at a great saving to the public purse, what they suffer or what respite help they need. He wants more done.
MPs know the challenge because most who spoke in the debate had direct, often harrowing, family or constituency experience. Oldham MP Debbie Abrahams, an ex-NHS manager, even told how her frail mother - by now living in New York - had her home stolen from her by her carer. It couldn’t happen here, or could it? Cameron wants a million “dementia friendly” volunteers. MPs who are helping develop dementia friendly communities want earlier diagnosis and fewer regional variations.
In 2013 happy warrior Burstow’s target is mental health. You can see how his brain joins up the policy strands, can’t you?
Michael White writes about politics for The Guardian