The new care services minister, Norman Lamb, has said he is “totally committed” to finding a way to implement the cap on social care costs proposed by the Dilnot Commission.
Mr Lamb, who replaced his Liberal Democrat colleague Paul Burstow during the ministerial reshuffle earlier this month, said social care remained “one of the great unreformed systems”.
Speaking at a King’s Fund conference on Tuesday, he said: “The government has endorsed the principle of capped exposure, and that’s quite a fundamental and important step forward. I personally think it’s essential we get a settlement of this.”
He said the government’s announcement in July that it accepted the cap on care costs “in principle” was “the first critical step” but that it was not yet clear how the reforms, estimated to cost £1.7bn per year, could be funded.
“It’s incredibly difficult in times of extraordinarily straitened financial circumstances to get this right,” he said. “I haven’t reached a conclusion about how we secure it but I’m totally committed to getting this settled.”
Mr Lamb also said he wanted to provide the “political oomph” needed to integrate health and social care.
“I give you my word that I will push integration as hard as I can,” he said, adding that it should be “given just as much importance as any other big NHS issue.”
Mr Lamb said one of his first tasks would be to “agree a working definition that allows everyone to be clear what we’re working towards.”
However, Sarah Pickup, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, said she was “slightly anxious” about a formal definition. “I’m not sure there is one,” she said. “You can integrate commissioning, delivery or access, or all of them. You need to know which one of those you’re trying to do. It’s really important to make sure we get a sensible definition.”
During the event Mr Lamb was asked whether it was reasonable to expect a clinical commissioning group to fund housing improvements if bad housing was a cause of health problems such as asthma. “I completely accept the sort of ambition you’ve set out there,” he said. “If housing is a cause of poor health, that is something the integrated system can tackle.”