A Liberal Democrat former minister has accused the Treasury of blocking reforms of the social care system.
Paul Burstow, the former care services minister who lost his job in the recent cabinet reshuffle, questioned the coalition’s political will to push through funding changes deemed by charities and campaigners to be urgently needed.
He blamed George Osborne’s department for delaying a decision on the financing of reforms, which could result in the government putting the issue “back in the ‘too difficult to do’ drawer”.
“The Treasury’s view is simple: kick the can down the road despite our rising elderly population. There’s no sense of urgency. No recognition that, left unreformed, there is no incentive for families to plan and prepare,” Burstow wrote in the Daily Telegraph.
“In the view of mandarins, there is no need for change, and certainly not yet. That has been the Treasury line every time a reform plan has popped its head above the parapet.”
Burstow reiterated his criticism on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “[This] is a reluctance on the part of the Treasury to see this as a problem. It is a reluctance to see it as a problem at all.
“The division is, I think, between the Treasury and everybody else.”
Last year, a report by economist Andrew Dilnot recommending a cap of £35,000 on the amount that elderly and disabled adults would have to pay towards their care costs was broadly welcomed by charities who are urging the government to act to tackle the burgeoning care crisis. Under the plans, the state would pick up the bill above that level.
But in July, the then health secretary, Andrew Lansley, who was also replaced in the reshuffle, said another system was being considered, a voluntary scheme in which elderly people would pay insurance premiums to the state to ensure their care costs were capped.
Government sources have since moved to insist the universal cap is still “on the table”. Burstow acknowledged the Treasury had not yet “smothered” the Dilnot recommendations.
But, he said, against this backdrop of delays and apparent indecision, it was “still far from certain that the coalition has the political will to grasp this historic opportunity”.
Urging his party leader, Nick Clegg, and David Cameron to “take on the Treasury orthodoxy”, he warned that the longer the government took to make up its mind, the more people would suffer.
“For the thousands of families navigating their way through an often complex and confusing care system, reform cannot come soon enough,” he wrote. “For too many the experience is degrading, stripping them of their dignity and their assets.”
He said the idea of an opt-in, voluntary scheme as outlined by Lansley was dangerous thinking that did not add up. Such a scheme would, however, be far cheaper for the state to implement.
In response to Burstow’s remarks, a Treasury spokesman told the Telegraph: “This is absolute rubbish. Unlike the previous government the Treasury has been key in getting this issue back on the agenda, not least by working to deliver stable public finances that are essential if Dilnot is to be delivered.”