PENSIONERs’ groups and charities rounded on the Government last night after reforms to end the ongoing crisis in social care funding that leaves tens of thousands of vulnerable elderly people forced to sell their homes each year were kicked into the long grass.
Nearly 12 months after a Government-backed commission put forward a package of measures to overhaul the failing social care system, the coalition’s programme for the coming year unveiled in the Queen’s Speech contained just a limited draft Bill – with no clear timetable and no mention of the crucial issue of funding.
The decision means there is little chance of any new legislation for at least a year, and comes just days after 78 different pensioners’ groups and charities signed an open letter to David Cameron calling for “urgent” action over an issue which has been side-stepped by successive Governments.
Ministers were last night insisting they need more time “to get the legislation absolutely right”.
But Saga said it was “very disappointed” no measures will be brought forward in the coming Parliamentary year, while the Carers Trust called it a “missed opportunity”. The disability charity Sense said the Government had “not delivered on its promises”.
In Sheffield, the local 50+ group said the move would lead to further delay, while the National Pensioners Convention decried “yet another draft Bill”.
In a nine-minute address in the House of Lords to mark the annual state opening of Parliament, the Queen outlined a relatively short legislative programme for the coming year containing 15 Bills plus a further four in draft form.
Among the biggest winners were farmers, with the long-awaited Bill to establish a supermarket ombudsman given central status and likely to be put before MPs within weeks.
For business, an Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill will be put forward to slash red tape and shake up the competition framework; while a Banking Reform Bill will begin to implement the huge shake-up of the banking system recommended in the wake of the financial crisis.
New family-friendly flexible working arrangements will be included in a Children and Families Bill, while the formation of an FBI-style National Crime Agency forms the centrepiece of a new Crime and Courts Bill.
By far the most politically contentious issue, however, will be a House of Lords Reform Bill designed to bring “democratic legitimacy” to the Upper Chamber for the first time – its inclusion in the speech representing a major victory for the Liberal Democrats.
But potentially more important in the long-term for Yorkshire will be an Energy Bill designed to reform the electricity market and attract a huge wave of multinational investment in green energy projects across the Humber region and beyond.
David Cameron insisted it was a legislative programme “to re-build Britain” which would “unleash the private sector and spread growth around the country”.
But Labour opponents savaged a speech which did not once mention the word “jobs”, as unemployment continues to soar. Leader Ed Miliband said it offered “no change, no hope” to struggling families and those out of work.
The Shadow Minister for Care and Older People, Liz Kendall, added: “David Cameron and Nick Clegg made a clear promise they would legislate on social care.
“But today we see them only committing to draft legislation on reform of social care law.
“This issue is too urgent to kick into the long grass... The system has now reached breaking point.”
Conservative Transport Secretary Justine Greening defended the decision, describing the draft Bill as a “step forward” and insisting cross-party discussions would need to continue to ensure the right measures were agreed.