Changes to care charges spark political dispute

Lord Smith
Lord Smith

Proposals for Wigan Council to charge residents more for social care services have been slammed by the borough’s official opposition.

The town hall has launched a consultation to reform its charging policy to bring it in line with other councils in Greater Manchester.

I fear that the people being punished here are those with incomes who small incomes who will be hit hardest

Coun Mike Winstanley

But the timing – seven weeks after the local elections – has attracted accusations the ruling Labour Party has been “playing politics”.

Wigan Council adopted chancellor George Osborne’s offer of raising council tax by two per cent to fund adult social care this year but opted not to enforce any further raises.

Leader Lord Smith dubbed the precept “Osborne Tax” and town hall finance bosses said the £2m it would raise would not entirely plug the budget gap for social care.

In moving to raise charges, Coun Mike Winstanley has accused Labour of “passing the council tax increase off as the fault of the Conservative Government” suggesting the reforms should have been revealed before last month’s elections.

He told the Evening Post: “It is clear that they have been holding onto this plan for months; this is not something that has just been developed.

“At the time they said (the two per cent precept) wasn’t enough and they needed more money.

“If that was the case when the council set the budget for the forthcoming year why did they not announce plans to increase council tax specifically for this purpose.

“The Labour Party could then have put this plan to the people of Wigan in the local elections.

“It is clear that they were more interested in playing politics and trying to pass the tax increase off as the fault of the Conservative Government which failed as the Conservatives ended up winning two extra seats.

“I fear that the people being punished here are those with incomes who small incomes who will be hit hardest.”

The council is consulting on two proposals; one which will see the level of disposable income taking into account in financial assessments to rise from 75 to 90 per cent.

The other is to remove the subsidies currently available to those deemed able to pay for certain social care services.

Stuart Cowley, director for adult social care and health at Wigan Council, said: “Through the Deal for Adult Social Care we have already brought in innovative and enriching new ways of offering care based around what people want and looking at different ways of offering that support rather than the traditional adult social care settings.

“The transformation of the way we deliver services comes at a time when Wigan Council is facing an increase in its ageing population who have more complex needs and more demand for support.

“This is also in the face of difficult financial pressures we face as a council.

“We want to make sure that everyone gets the right support they need and make sure that the way the services are funded is fair for everyone.

“By increasing charges for those who can afford to pay we will be able to make sure the most in need still get the help they need.

“This extra support will also help us continue to protect our frontline services and provide care which we know residents value.”

Coun Winstanley, the Conservative leader for Wigan Council, added: “I hope that the council will engage in a genuine consultation and if the consensus is against this then they withdraw these proposals.”

All residents directly affected by the potential changes are being contacted directly about the consultation and resident can also take part in the survey online at http://www.wigan.gov.uk/Council/Consultations/Consultations.aspx