Gordon Brown's flagship scheme for free home care for the elderly and infirm is heading for a crushing defeat today in the House of Lords.
Peers of all parties are lining up to condemn the plans – announced by the Prime Minister at last year's Labour conference – as rushed, under-funded and counterproductive. Mr Brown claimed that more than 400,000 people would benefit from this autumn, including 280,000 older and disabled adults who would be guaranteed free care.
Defeat in the Lords today will almost certainly seal the fate of the Personal Care at Home Bill as time is running out to push legislation on to the statute book.
Four amendments designed to put the scheme on hold will be backed by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat peers as well as a large number of crossbenchers and rebel Labour peers, The Independent has learned.
Critics warn that the scheme could have the perverse side-effect of families deciding to keep frail relatives at home rather than putting them into residential care.
They have protested that the estimated £670m annual cost of the scheme will fall far short of the sums required to operate it. They also complain that it is wrong to treat the proposals as "emergency legislation" and rush them through Parliament.
One amendment certain to win majority support today would require the Government to hold an independent review of the scheme's affordability. Another would delay its introduction until after the election, enabling the next government to consider the scheme afresh.
Lord Bassam, the Labour Chief Whip, has warned that the amendments are designed to "wreck" the Bill.
Criticism of the Bill has been led by Lord Butler, a former Cabinet Secretary, who has said it is a "prime example" of bad legislation being hurried through Parliament. He said Mr Brown's surprise announcement cut across wider work on reforming the whole system of social care.
Lord Lipsey, a Labour peer, said last night: "The role of the Lords in this case is to act as a back-stop against government abuse of procedures.
"The figures do not add up – there is severe doubt about the financing of the proposed scheme."
Under government plans, 280,000 people needing help with basic functions such as dressing and getting out of bed would receive free care. They include sufferers from Alzheimer's disease or Parkinson's disease. A further 130,000 frail patients, including stroke sufferers, would receive help with home improvements, such as grab rails and panic buttons, to help them regain their independence.
Mr Brown told the Labour conference that the scheme would cost £670m, most of which would be raised through savings in the Department of Health's administrative budget.
However, local authorities are being asked to contribute £250m, which has provoked anger among town hall leaders. The Local Government Association said: "This is a new burden. It should be met fully from central government funds or by lifting burdens on councils."
The Conservatives claim that ministers have got their sums wrong, calculating that the £670m figure is equivalent to care worth £32 a week for each person who qualifies for help. They have pointed out that the average weekly cost of home care is £135.Reuse content