LIBERAL DEMOCRAT FRINGE - A Bill to reform how social care is paid for, developed on a cross-party basis, will be brought to Parliament next year, Care Services Minister Paul Burstow said today.

This article was first published by DeHavilland

Mr Burstow was speaking at a Liberal Democrat conference fringe entitled “are we prepared for an ageing society?” He was joined on the panel by Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director for Age UK.

Opening his speech, the Minister insisted that the coalition government was committed to mitigating the impact of the spending cuts on the most vulnerable people.

It was not just a matter of crisis management in health and social care, he insisted. The bigger picture had to be seen, and it was crucial that good preventative practices were kept despite the cuts being made, he said.

Building relationships in the field, between patients, health workers, social workers, local authorities and all involved parties, was particularly crucial in ensuring that health and social care were fully joined up, he said. Local authorities that had achieved this saw impressive results, he asserted.

Despite claims people had made since the government’s plans were announced, research showed that PCTs had not generally been very effective, either at commissioning or at joining up services in their area, the Minister said.

It was important not just to ensure the system did not collapse, but to actually offer people something better, he continued.

To achieve this, he set out, this government was committed to finishing what Labour never had, by creating a new system of how social care could be paid for.

A Task Group was in place, working not on the broad brush of what to do but on the fine details of how the new system would be created, Mr Burstow said. This would report its proposals next year, leading directly to a Bill, he asserted.

It was also important to reform social care law, he continued. It had to become “personalised and portable”, he argued: this would only cost a little more but would transform people’s lives.

This would be a reforming government, he promised the audience. In tough times it was important to do something different and to be creative, rather than to just ‘salami slice’ every service, he concluded.

In a question session after the speeches, a representative from the Alzheimer’s Society urged the Minister to commit to implementing the National Dementia Strategy for England that had been created under the previous government.

A revised implementation plan would be published ‘shortly’, Mr Burstow informed the meeting. All the recommendations made in the national strategy would be kept to, he assured the audience, insisting again that the government was determined to stand by those most in need.

He was also chair of a group looking at research into the condition, he set out. There was exciting progress being made, he claimed, announcing that an action plan would be published on further research in the new year.

Asked by another questioner what he would say to councils who were already cutting social care services and funding, the Minister insisted that this was not as a consequence of government decisions, and that these councils should be held accountable by their voters.

Councils should wait to see government’s spending plans before making such major decisions themselves, he urged. They should be planning for the next five years, as the government was, rather than for the next twelve months, he added.

In response to another question, he stressed that the terms of reference for the Task Group working on social care reform had been accepted by all parties, including Labour. His job in this process was not to give an opinion but to ensure the process of reaching a settlement was as fair as possible, he asserted.

On another issue, Mr Burstow argued that reablement could be a key to improving social care outcomes, not only when people were being discharged from hospital but at other times as well. Addressing the whole needs of the person, by combining health and social care, could achieve radical results, he said, in the best cases meaning there would be no need for ongoing care.

There would be extra investment in such reablement services, he revealed.

The event was opened by Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director for Age UK warned that a 25 per cent cut in social care would devastate thousands of lives.

The ageing society was an achievement to be proud of, but its consequences had to be faced up to, she warned, and discussion was needed of how government should respond.

Age UK was driven by the need to tackle disadvantage amongst the elderly, she set out. They wanted to create a conversation about how the Big Society agenda should be responded to, and for this needed to build evidence and to hear what was important to people, she said.

Part of the event was run by Anna Pierce, Head of Central Government Research for Ipsos-Mori, who polled the room on a series of questions relating to funding priorities in social care.