During the first couple of years of this Parliament, my own travels around Liberal Democrat local parties often crossed over with those of Paul Burstow. For all the controversy over the health reforms, I was always impressed by just how often he made local party visits, happy to talk in detail and at length about his vision for health and social care services – and to say in the room, keeping on answering questions until the audience was worn out.
What else came out clearly from hearing him speak many times is just how committed he is to reform of social care – both to tackle its costs and also to raise its quality (and he is always worth listening to on the tension a minister in Whitehall faces between wanting to devolve power and responsibility on the one hand and the pressure to take direct action when a crisis hits on the other). For an example, see my account of his visit to Haringey last year.
Sacked in the last reshuffle, he is now demonstrating how an ex-minister can, rather than slipping away into silence or petulance, continue to push a major policy, prodding the government and also helping their own party in the process.
That combination is important, for a successful political party needs not only to get policies implemented, it also needs to get credit for doing so – and both the fate of the Dilnot Commission report into social care and also the question of who will get political credit for implementing it if it comes to be are both up in the air.
Things are looking promising on both, due in no small part to Paul Burstow, who has been at it again today with a round of media appearances and an article for The Guardian:
Older people deserve better than an unfair lottery that leaves them exposed to huge care costs; we now have a once in a generation chance to put this right.
During my times as care services minister I received countless letters from the families of older people. These letters described, in heartbreaking detail, how elderly people across the country were facing the prospect of losing all that they had worked hard for to pay for care.
The stories captured in those letters were a cry for help and a call to action. And that is why I am publishing a CentreForum report, Delivering Dilnot: Paying for Elderly Care, that sets out how we can give all older people and their families peace of mind…
Reforming care needs a new social contract, where in exchange for peace of mind, those with the broadest shoulders take some of the financial burden. I am proposing that to help the 75% who will need care we should look at the evidence, and recycle the proceeds of a benefit that 80% of older people do not require.
The winter fuel payment costs more than £2bn a year, and is paid to about 12 million people. If the benefit were limited to those on pension credit, it would release £1.5bn a year. Furthermore, linking the winter fuel allowance to those who claim pension credit would actually encourage those only entitled to receive small sums in pension credit to take it up in the first place.