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By LGCnet political correspondent Robert Hedley ...
By LGCnet political correspondent Robert Hedley

In the week when personal care in Scotland became free for older people, the government defended its decision to retain charges in England.

The issue was raised by Liberal Democrat Baroness Barker who asked health minister Lord Hunt to comment on a report by nursing home co-ordinators and health authorities which found that six out of 10 nursing homes were passing on costs in increased fees to older people.

'At a time when older people in Scotland are receiving free personal care, what is his department doing to stop older people in England paying for what is supposed to be free nursing care by the back door?' she asked.

Lord Hunt said it was 'a glory of devolution' that Scotland could choose which way it wished to go and that England could choose a different course.

'We chose a different course because we believed that if we instituted free personal care, we should not produce a single extra service as a result but would benefit many better-off people. We considered that the£1bn cost of free personal care in England would be better spent on providing services such as intermediate care for all older people to enjoy and to help them rehabilitate, rather than having to enter institutionalised care', he explained.

On nursing costs, he said health minister Jacqui Smith had announced a package of measures to ensure greater transparency so that fee-paying residents in care homes knew exactly what money was being spent where.

Disability campaigner, Labour's Lord Ashley declared: 'By charging for the other important need arising from sickness and disability - personal care - the government are being both illogical and unfair. The sooner that policy is reversed, the better for disabled people'.

However, the government was supported by a member of the royal commission on long-term care, whose majority report recommended that both nursing and personal care should be free - the model adopted by the Scottish parliament.

Labour's Lord Lipsey, who took a dissenting view, said: 'Any transitional problems we may be experiencing in moving from nursing homes pale into insignificance when compared to the dog's breakfast of a policy of free personal care favoured, alas, by the Scots and by Lady Barker. Beside being unaffordable and doing nothing to improve care standards, it represents a massive transfer of money from poorer to richer people'.

Hansard 2 July 2002: Column 122-124

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