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Wednesday, 30 May, 2001, 08:43 GMT 09:43 UK
Free care for old - Lib Dems
All pensioners in the UK would receive free nursing and personal care under a Liberal Democrat government, the party has pledged.
Leader Charles Kennedy told his party's campaign news conference on Wednesday that free care already available in Scotland would be extended to England and Wales.
"Everyone in society deserves dignity in old age," he said.
The party also announced that former Tory minister John Lee had defected to the Lib Dems.
The proposals for free care would mean that "people will not have to plunder their savings or even to sell their homes to get the care they need", according to Mr Kennedy.
The number of pensioners forced to sell their homes to pay for personal care each year has dramatically increased to 70,000 over the last year, he said.
He contrasted the position in Scotland, where he said Lib Dems' part in government had secured free care, with that in the rest of the UK.
Mr Kennedy turned his fire onto the Conservatives, saying that with just one week to go before the election they had still failed to hold a press conference on health.
"That is because they are running scared on the issue because their plans offer nothing to the poor," he said.
He quoted a survey which showed that since 1995, approximately 40,000 homes were sold every year to pay for care.
This April Mr Burstow canvassed 104 social services departments throughout the UK and compiled results from the 66 replies.
He said: "Before the last election Tony Blair criticised the Conservatives for betraying Britain's pensioners by forcing thousands to sell their homes to pay for long-term care.
"The sad fact is that the situation has got worse."
'Forced to sell'
He added: "It is unacceptable that elderly people are forced to sell their homes just to be fed and washed."
He said that the Liberal Democrats would, if elected, ensure that pensioners in the rest of the UK got the same free personal care already offered in Scotland.
"The Conservatives are the only party which has said how it will bring to an end the scandal of older people being forced to sell their homes to pay for long term care," said the spokesman.
Labour policy on the issue is that while nursing care will be free, elderly patients in homes will have to pay for personal care, such as washing and feeding.
A spokesman for the Labour party said the figures used in the Liberal Democrat survey were "inaccurate, unreliable and meaningless."
"They are based on only 25 per cent of local authorities. And the Lib Dems have misleadingly extrapolated that 16 per cent going in to care and 'had a charge put on their house' meant therefore that 70,000 people had to "sell their homes".
Mr Milburn also told the BBC that there was no truth in newspaper reports that Labour had been having secret negotiations with the Independent Healthcare Association over the provision of care for the elderly.
Confirming his defection from the Tories to the Liberal Democrats Mr Lee, who served as a defence and employment minister, said: "Only the Liberal Democrats have demonstrated real character and determination, in particular on the issue of the single currency.
"I find myself at ease with their policies and attitudes and intend to give them my support now and in the future."
Mr Lee, who was MP for Nelson and Colne from 1979 to 1983, and for Pendle from 1983 to 1992 is the 10th former Conservative parliamentarian to join the Liberal Democrats.
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