The Green Party has criticised the apparent U-turn by the Labour Party on its pledge to provide free social care. It comes in the wake of comments by Shadow Cabinet Minister and MP for Bristol West Thangam Debbonaire, who said fulfilling the Labour promise to disabled and older people would be too expensive.
Debbonaire told women party members at a recent virtual ‘composite meeting’ that introducing free social care for disabled and older people would ‘give the Tories a stick to beat Labour with’, the Disability News Service reported last week.
The Bristol West MP allegedly claimed that the policy would cost £100 billion, adding that right-wing newspapers would attack the policy and lose Labour the next general election.
Debbonaire’s comments were made at a ‘composite meeting’, which was held to discuss how to combine various motions that had been proposed by Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) into a single motion to be debated and voted on at the Labour Women’s Conference.
Multiple CLPs had passed motions calling for free social care, and a draft composite motion included two references to free social care, including a call for Labour to promise ‘to make the provision of all social care free to the recipient as is the case for health care under the NHS’ and for social care to be ‘needs-based and publicly funded, free at the point of use’.
However, the final version of the motion, prepared just before the meeting, was void of any mentions of free social care.
Speaking to the DNS, one disabled party member who attended the virtual meeting said that Labour had ‘betrayed and silenced its disabled members’.
During his leadership campaign last year, Keir Starmer supported the National Independent Living Support Service (NILSS) proposals, which would provide a universal right to independent living that was ‘enshrined in law’ and would introduce free social care in England, funded by national and progressive taxation.
Last Wednesday, a Labour spokesperson failed to comment on the apparent U-turn, Thangam Debbonaire’s comments, or what the party’s message was to disabled people and allies. In a statement, they said: “The final motion was democratically agreed by all CLPs who attended the meeting and will be debated and voted on by the National Women’s Conference”.
Peter Cranie, the Green Party’s Health, Social Care and Public Health spokesperson, criticised Labour’s U-turn: “The Greens have always advocated for a move towards an integrated health and social care programme with an explicit commitment that people should not have to sell their homes to pay for care.
“We can’t get away from the fact that more funding is needed in social care - even under the current system. The Conservatives, and now Labour, are trying to swerve the issue entirely so they don’t have to address where the extra money will come from. When the country is crying out for principled opposition, Labour is providing none in order to avoid talking about tax or cutting wildly overinflated budgets like defence.
“The NHS was the health legacy of the second world war and there is an opportunity now to make a social care programme that is actually linked in with health care and provides people with the support they need, a legacy of the recovery from the Covid pandemic.”
Among other social care commitments, the Green Party would invest £4.5 billion a year to fund council provision of free social care for people over 65 who need support in their own homes.
The Greens are also the only major party to back a 15 per cent rise in pay for NHS healthcare workers.
Carla Denyer, the Green Party’s Housing and Communities spokesperson and MP candidate for Bristol West, added:
“To see this U-turn from Labour is a real kick in the teeth for disabled people and the older people in our communities. Our policies on social care - just like all our policies in the Green Party - are based on giving people the opportunities and support that they’re entitled to, that are fair and offer dignity, not on whether the Tories will criticise us for them. That’s no way to do politics!"