Last month’s pre-reshuffle rumours were dominated by stories of Andy Burnham being moved from his role as Shadow Health Secretary.
For many members, this was a bit of a surprise. Yes, there was a row when he called on Labour to ‘shout louder’, but Andy appeared to be one member of the shadow cabinet who loved his brief and knew it inside out.
But more importantly, he has put forward the most compelling package of policy that Labour has developed in opposition.
‘Whole Person Care’ is a simple idea with the possibility of making a huge impact. Putting physical, social and mental health together in one system, ending the fragmented system we currently have, is a vision to aspire to.
And with an election to win, this vision is worth its weight in gold.
The Lib Dems and the Tories have pinned an awful lot of their credibility on getting social care reform right. It has been a central part of the last two Queen’s Speeches. The set piece reform was to end the ‘scandal’ of older people selling their homes to pay for care by introducing a ‘cap’ on care costs.
But this promise is now unravelling.
First off, Labour Lord Lipsey caused havoc in the Department of Health by proving that the Government scheme had had ‘its balls cut off’. This is on top of the fact that the ‘cap’ has been set at £72,000 – over double what the Dilnot Commission recommended. How many people have £72,000 to spend without selling their home?
But one key fact is now coming to light – that most older people won’t ever be considered disabled enough to receive social care, let alone be eligible for the ‘cap’. This is because of an important technicality in the Care Bill, which sets a high ‘national eligibility threshold’ to determine who gets care and who doesn’t. And this same eligibility will determine who can have their care costs ‘capped’.
In practice this means that thousands of older people who have been told by the Government that they won’t have to sell their homes to pay for care, will.
And the Government know this. Their own figures suggest that only 1 in 200 pensioners will benefit from the cap by the time it has been in place for 10 years.
There is surely set to be an enormous backlash when pensioners find out that the ‘cap’ is actually a con.
And this is where Andy Burnham must take his own advice and ‘shout louder’.
‘Whole Person Care’ would mean a truly fairer care system, concentrated on making sure those who need care, get it. It would also go far further to remedy the issue of the crippling costs of care.
With Government care policy slowly being picked apart, there is a real opportunity for Labour to tell this story and pick up those votes from older people who the Tories thought they had in the bag.
Andy, your position is stronger than ever before. Shout louder about the failure of the Government’s reforms – you have a compelling answer.