Free Personal Care ... an Update

I said there might be something nasty in the small print about the cost of the care proposals announced yesterday. I haven't seen anything in print, but on Sky News this morning Gordon Brown said it would cost £350m for the first year and £670m for the second ... so the total is already much higher than reported yesterday and now stands over the £1bn mark. He said the portion that isn't coming from the NHS budget would come from Local Authorities, through ... yes, you guessed it ... efficiency savings.

Nobody reading this needs me to tell them that this is a joke. It is two-faced: a UK Government proudly announcing that they are going to do something new in England, but relying on local government to pay for most of the costs. Councils won't be able to do it without increased funding from central government.

So we are left with this:

• Labour in Westminster obviously think free personal care is a good thing.

• But they have never been prepared to finance it at any time over the previous twelve years. When they had the opportunity do so so, they had other priorities.

• So they announce it within a few months of the end of their term of office, on a heavily back-end weighted programme (nearly twice as much in the second year as the first).

• They then will leave it as a headache for the Tories to pick up, knowing that the Tories will either have to water it down, scrap it, or fund it using one of the mechanisms Labour themselves had decided on only a few months ago.

• So whatever the Tories do, Labour will claim that they introduced "free personal care" and the Tories snatched it away again.

It can only be hypocrisy ... spin, if you want to use a gentler word.

Meanwhile, in Wales, we now have a situation in which care charges are capped at £50 a week. In contrast to what Gordon Brown has just promised this, although more modest, was a commitment that was actually deliverable and has now been delivered.

It is also worth noting that the figure in the BBC report for those who pay for Council-provided personal care in Wales is 14,000 out of 3m, or 4.66%. I think it's fair to say that our proportion of old people in need of care is not going to be lower than in England or Scotland, so the difference can only be that the remainder are already getting such care for free.

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