Community care policy 'at risk'

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The Independent Online
THE LAUNCH of the Government's care in the community policy was 'put into jeopardy' yesterday when a charity challenged the way it planned to fund care for drug addicts and alcoholics.

Lawyers representing the London-based Alcohol Recovery Project (ARP) were granted leave to seek judicial review of the policy after a High Court judge accepted that Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health, may have acted unfairly when she reversed government promises to guarantee funding for voluntary drug and alcohol projects.

Mr Justice Auld said he was 'troubled' that the reversal of policy had prejudiced ARP financially, because it had relied on the word of Mrs Bottomley and her predecessor, Kenneth Clarke, that money for the projects would be 'ring-fenced', or safeguarded.

The judge agreed that the review should be arranged urgently after Michael Beloff QC, counsel for the Department of Health, said: 'The timetable targeted of April 1 1993 (for the introduction of the new policy) will be put in jeopardy if there remains a degree of uncertainty.'

Under the new plans, cash that had previously been ring-fenced would be given to local authorities to administer. ARP said some might not pass on the money. John Hendy QC, for ARP, said Mrs Bottomley had acted unfairly by going back on assurances given in the Commons on 27 June 1990. Then, Kenneth Clarke tabled an amendment to the National Health and Community Care Act which provided for the earmarking of cash for local authorities to give only to voluntary drug and alcohol projects, and said: '. . . money will be ring-fenced and local authorities will be able to spend it only in grants to such bodies.'

On the same day, Mrs Bottomley, then Minister of State for Health, said: 'Specific grants shall be available for those who are drug addicts or alcoholics.' But in October 1992, ARP and other charities learned that ring- fencing had been abandoned.

ARP receives income support of pounds 180.60 a week for each of the 2,500 people it helps annually, but after 1 April, that will fall to a lesser income support allowance plus pounds 50 per person.

Mr Beloff, for the department, said amending the policy had not breached the law. Allowing the charity to seek a judicial review would be like allowing a complaint from someone who had not budgeted for an increase in tax.

The hearing may take place next week.