The media storm triggered by that announcement inevitably focused on a single issue – namely who pays for care.
And while of course that issue is very important (and is something I care deeply about), it doesn’t address the urgent problem of fixing our broken system of social care.
Over my fifteen years in Parliament and in my years before that as a councillor I have fought and campaigned to protect the rights of the elderly, the disabled and those most in need of our care and support. The White Paper and draft Bill build on those years of campaigning as a Liberal Democrat, and now as a Lib Dem minister. They are an articulation of a Liberal vision, and I believe they are an articulation of our party values.
So many of the stories we read about care are about dignity and compassion, or the lack of them, of poor quality and little choice. It is how safe and how good the care their loved ones receive that matter most and worries people most.
We know that not all care is good. This is why we’ll be improving the information on offer so that people can plan better for their future, and we’ll be putting people in control of their own budget so that they are helped to choose care that is good quality and that meets their needs.
Those who work in the care profession, and the quality of their relationships with people, are key if we want people to have positive experiences of care. We are therefore bringing new people into the profession by doubling the number of care apprenticeships to 100,000 by 2017.
People want peace of mind that they or their loved ones will be treated with dignity and respect. That has been at the forefront of my thinking as I have worked on these reforms.
With the inevitable disappointment that the Government has not reach a final decision on funding reform, the White Paper and draft Bill have been welcomed by carers, social care users and the sector as being ‘innovative’ and ‘truly visionary’. As Age UK put it, they have: ‘the potential to significantly improve the quality of care available…helping to create a system that is fairer and more straightforward’.
Now we’ve all got to work together as Liberal Democrats to make sure all that potential is turned into a reality. At the recent Social Liberal Forum I was asked how members and activists could pitch in to help – and you can do this by commenting on the draft Bill.
This is the first time the Department of Health has invited online comments from the public on a Bill, so it is a perfect chance for Lib Dems to have their say on one of the most important issues of our generation.
* Paul Burstow MP is Chair of the Parliamentary Party, and MP for Sutton and Cheam