UK Politics

Miliband and Cameron back cross-party talks on care

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Media captionEd Miliband says the scenes of abuse filmed by Panorama at the Winterbourne View care home "shame our country"

Labour leader Ed Miliband has said he wants cross-party talks to resolve the problem of funding adult social care.

Mr Miliband said he wanted parties to work together so people could "grow old with dignity".

PM David Cameron said he "thoroughly welcomed" the idea of talks on what was a "very difficult" issue.

Any talks will not happen until the Dilnot Commission reports on its plans for the future funding of social care in England in July.

Labour explored a number of options for reform of long term care for the elderly before the 2010 general election but the three largest parties failed to reach agreement on how to proceed.

It ended in a row ahead of the general election with the Conservatives accusing Labour of planning a "death tax" to pay for free care at home for the elderly.

'Serious offer'

At a press conference in London, Mr Miliband vowed to "come to these talks with an open mind about the best way forward, not simply advocating what we have proposed in the past".

Asked what that meant for previous Labour care pledges - such as National Care Service, announced by Gordon Brown in his 2009 Labour conference speech - he said: "It doesn't mean we are ditching our commitment... I'm still a supporter of that idea."

But, he added, he would go into any cross-party talks with an open mind.

David Cameron welcomed Mr Miliband's call for cooperation on the issue.

He said: "This is a very difficult issue to get right as a country - the long-term costs of social care, how we share those costs, how we pay for them.

"If there is an opportunity for cross-party work on that, I thoroughly welcome it.

"The idea of commissioning Andrew Dilnot was to see if he could unlock this fantastically difficult problem that has dogged governments of all colours for the last few decades.

"I am always happy to have cross-party talks, particularly on an issue like that."

The Department of Health said the Dilnot commission had consulted members of different political parties and was working on recommendations "that will attract the widest possible support".

In his press conference, Mr Miliband also addressed abuse, uncovered by a BBC Panorama investigation, at Winterbourne View care home near Bristol and called for an independent inquiry.

Panorama uncovered a pattern of abuse at the privately owned residential care home - which led to 13 employees being suspended and four arrests.

Mr Miliband said he was shocked and sickened by the scenes and called for an independent investigation into what happened.

"The government appears to believe that reviews by the Care Quality Commission and by South Gloucestershire Council are enough - it is not because these bodies were involved in the failure itself," he said.

Mr Cameron said the most important thing was for the police investigation to get under way: "We saw the appalling scenes on our television screens and we need the police to get to the bottom of what happened. If criminal offences were committed, then people should feel the full force of the law coming down on them."

But he dismissed calls for reform of the regulator, the Care Quality Commission, after it failed to act on a whistle-blower's warnings about Winterbourne View.

He said: "The last thing we need is another reorganisation of regulators. This is now the regulator, this is the responsible body. We have got to make sure they are fully capable of doing all the tasks that are put in front of them."

Last week it also emerged that the UK's biggest care homes provider Southern Cross, which runs 750 homes, was having to reduce its rent payments as it struggles with its financial problems.

Mr Miliband said it showed that the finances of such organisations should be subject to regulation - as, like the banks, corporate failure could have "consequences far beyond the loss to shareholders and investors" - for those in homes, their families, and the taxpayer.

"It is plain wrong that financiers creamed off millions, while as we now know the care of tens of thousands of elderly people was being put at risk. They seem to have been treated merely as commodities."

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