LABOUR was yesterday forced to ditch one of its top 10 promises from the last National Assembly election after admitting it could not afford to pay for it.
The cancellation of the pledge - to scrap home care charges for disabled people - was announced by Health Minister Dr Brian Gibbons. He told AMs that it followed an independent costing of the policy by Professor David Bell of Stirling University.
Dr Gibbons said, "We commissioned detailed and independent work on costing the policy of free home care for disabled people. Prof Bell's report has highlighted a number of issues and it is clear that at the current time we could not put in place our original plans equitably and affordably."
The Minister said that instead he was announcing a £76m package of measures to support older people. This will mean people below 60 with a disposable charging income below £110 and those over 60 with a disposable charging income of £143 should not have to pay for personal home care provided by the council. Other elements include extra support for carers of mentally ill people and more "telecare technology" to help vulnerable people feel safe at home.
Plaid Cymru's Shadow Health Minister Helen Mary Jones said, "Once again New Labour in Wales has been caught out. They have made election promises without working out the cost. This is a betrayal of disabled people across Wales who were promised by Rhodri Morgan in 2003 they would receive free home care. Rhodri Morgan and his government should apologise. New Labour have let down one of the most vulnerable groups in society."
Tory health spokesman Jonathan Morgan said, "There is no way the people of Wales can have any faith in whatever Labour says to them in the run-up to the 2007 Assembly elections.
"For Labour to knowingly mislead the people of Wales about such an important issue as free home care for the disabled is nothing short of a national disgrace. The Health Minister should apologise to the people of Wales - as should his predecessor Jane Hutt and First Minister Rhodri Morgan.
"It is clear that money has been the only consideration in this decision. The needs of disabled people have been ignored by the Labour Party."
Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman Jenny Randerson said, "The package of measures the Minister has announced will undoubtedly help many people but it falls a long way short of what we were expecting. Today's announcement is a major blow to a group of people who were expecting to hear good news.
"Just like with Free School Breakfasts, another of Labour's promises has proved to be uncosted and undeliverable.
"Even within the health budget, we have seen a failure to prioritise. Surely giving free personal care to disabled people should have been a greater priority for this Labour government has given free prescriptions to all - even the wealthy and relatively healthy."
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