WELSH Labour was last night accused of letting down the most vulnerable people in society as it emerged how far the party was from delivering its key election pledge to provide free home care to disabled people.
Documents released to the Western Mail show the policy has not been introduced because of a failure to agree on a definition of the word "disabled". The Assembly Government plans to organise an extensive consultation exercise on it later this year.
Yet when the promise was made during the 2003 Assembly election, Labour published its own definition of "disabled" on its website.
One of the documents released under the Freedom of Information Act shows in late 2003 the then Health and Social Services Minister, Jane Hutt, insisted the Labour definition should be regarded as "illustrative rather than prescriptive", thus triggering further delays.
Ten items in the file have been withheld because they constitute legal advice, which the Assembly Government says has to be kept secret.
Rhian Davies, chief executive of Disability Wales, said, "We have been campaigning about this for five or six years, and were very pleased when Labour made it one of their key pledges in 2003.
"Many thousands of disabled people in Wales are not getting the care they deserve because they cannot afford charges, which range from £5 a week to £25 and even higher. Obviously we want to see the charges scrapped at the earliest possible time."
Plaid Cymru's Shadow Health and Social Services Minister Rhodri Glyn Thomas said, "The Labour Assembly Government is letting down the most vulnerable people in Wales. They promised two years ago that free personal care would be introduced for disabled people just to get votes. They didn't say that at the mid-term point, delivery of the promise would be no closer. The fact is that Labour never intended to introduce free care in the short term because they wanted to spend the money on other things.
"The way they have behaved is not just politically unacceptable, it is immoral."
Welsh Conservative AM David Melding, who chairs the Assembly's health and social services committee, said, "The definition of a disabled person is as clear in Wales as it is in the rest of the United Kingdom. It is contained in the Department for Work and Pensions' criteria for benefits such as the disability living allowance.
"What is clear to me is that officials realised this is the only definition for a disabled person that can be used if the Labour Party's manifesto promise is to be honoured.
"However, we now see the tawdry prospect of a government trying to get off the hook on a clear manifesto promise.
"Consulting on the issue of what is a disabled person is redundant, pathetic and will undermine public confidence in the integrity of the Welsh Assembly Government.
"This whole issue illustrates the chaotic nature of the Labour Party's policy making process."
Welsh Liberal Democrat health and social services spokeswoman Kirsty Williams said, "This was a manifesto commitment which would have helped disabled people enormously and taken a step towards introducing free personal care for all. Yet here we are, two years on and nothing to show for it apart from a handful of secret letters emerging into the light.
"I struggle to believe that after all this delay, they are now proposing a consultation which will further delay the introduction of their pledge.
"While Labour is playing at being in government, disabled people are paying for care which they were told would be free.
"This isn't the first time that Labour has failed to live up to its promises, and the Western Mail has done a great service to the people of Wales in exposing that failure. For Ministers to say the Labour Party's own definition was 'illustrative rather than definitive' is beyond belief.
"No wonder they have got in such a pickle with free school breakfasts as well - they don't think through their promises."