Page last updated at 15:07 GMT, Friday, 12 February 2010

Mandelson accuses Cameron of 'wrecking' care talks

Andrew Lansley
Andrew Lansley denied Mr Cameron stopped the talks.

Business Secretary Lord Mandelson has accused David Cameron of "driving a wrecking ball" through efforts to get a cross-party consensus on elderly care.

The main parties agree reform is needed - many English people have to sell their homes to pay for care - and talks were held to try to get consensus.

But this week the Tory leader claimed Labour plans a "death tax" to fund it.

Lord Mandelson said he had acted for "political advantage" but the Tories say he was "right" to question plans.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced plans for free personal care at home for the most needy elderly people in England at the Labour Party conference last year, mirroring the system in Scotland.

'Death tax' attack

The service - for people needing help eating, washing and dressing - is currently means-tested and there has been criticism that it penalises people on modest incomes who have saved for old age.

It is estimated that 280,000 people could qualify.

It is cynical, short-sighted and contemptible behaviour
Lord Mandelson

It has emerged that the health spokesmen from three main parties have had discussions about agreeing a joint policy.

But on Wednesday the Conservatives launched a new election poster accusing the government of planning a £20,000 "death tax" to pay for the measure.

At prime minister's questions Mr Cameron repeatedly challenged Mr Brown to say he would rule out a compulsory £20,000 charge levied from someone's estate after death - which was one option outlined in a Green Paper looking at ways to extend free care to more people.

Insurance scheme

Health Secretary Andy Burnham has said no decision has been taken on the options - which also include greater state contributions to the cost of care and a voluntary insurance scheme.

Lord Mandelson said: "While the shadow health secretary was prepared to talk about the options on elderly care that we need for the future, David Cameron could think only of political advantage.


"Clearly, David Cameron drove a wrecking ball through the consensus on care - not to help the older people of this country but to indulge in playground politics. It is cynical, short-sighted and contemptible behaviour."

Norman Lamb, the Lib Dems health spokesman, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the three parties had agreed on a set of "clearly shared principles" before talks "collapsed in acrimony".

He said the parties should work together and bury their differences: "We have got a system that is in crisis. Many elderly people don't get the care they need and people think that the funding of it is unfair."

For the Conservatives, Mr Lansley said it was "not true" Mr Cameron had ordered him to pull out of the talks when he learned of them.

"After we had had these talks I told David Cameron about them and... he said that's fine," he said.

Mr Lansley said no agreement had been reached and the parties had been free to criticise each other's policies - adding a newspaper article on Tuesday had suggested the health secretary was pushing for the £20,000 compulsory levy to be in Labour's manifesto.

"It was necessary to criticise it, right to criticise it, because frankly it's an extremely bad policy," said Mr Lansley.

"With less than three months to go until an election, the public have a right to for there to be a serious debate about how the future system of social care is to be funded."

There was cross-party agreement that a more personalised care system was needed but there was a fundamental difference of opinion on how it should be funded, he said.

The Conservatives have floated a plan for an £8,000 voluntary charge for 65-year-olds to prevent them having to sell their homes to pay for residential care.

Mr Lansley said: "There is no point trying to force a consensus - either it exists or it doesn't."

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