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Anger over failure in Queen’s speech to set out social care plans

·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/AP</span>
Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/AP

More care homes and other providers will go bust, cut services or walk away from unviable contracts after the government failed to set out concrete plans to tackle the funding crisis in adult social care, industry leaders have warned.

Campaigners said the government appeared to have ducked its “1948 moment” – a reference to the birth of the NHS – to present far-reaching changes to rebuild a social care service struggling to meet its obligations to hundreds of thousands of people in need.

It came as official figures showed that more care home resident deaths in England and Wales were attributed to coronavirus during the second wave of the pandemic than the first. While the rise was much sharper during the first wave, the absolute number and proportion of deaths attributed to the virus was higher in the second wave.

In the first wave, between mid-March and mid-September 2020, there were 20,664 care home deaths (23.1%) either directly as a result of Covid or where the virus was a contributory factor compared with 21,677 such deaths (25.7%) in wave two, between the mid-September and 2 April 2021.

Tory MP Dan Poulter called for the coronavirus public inquiry to look specifically at care home deaths. “This must include detailed consideration of the devastating toll of the coronavirus on care home residents and staff, and how to prevent the mistakes made in the early stages of the pandemic from being repeated.”

Despite Boris Johnson promising nearly two years ago to “fix” social care, there was just a single line in the Queen’s speech on Tuesday, setting out the government’s legislative plan, stating: “Proposals on reforms to social care will be brought forward.” Further details are expected in the autumn at the earliest.

Labour leader Keir Starmer said the lack of a plan for adult social care was “unforgivable”, adding it was 657 days since Johnson stood outside No 10 and said he had one. Failure to act after the pandemic was “nothing short of an insult to the whole nation”.

There were also signs of discontent from the Tory backbenches. Jeremy Hunt, the chair of the Commons health and social care committee, called for a cap on “catastrophically high care costs” faced by one in 10 individuals needing care. He said: “I think in a civilised society we should find a way of taking away that worry.”

The Tory MP and former Cabinet Office minister Damian Green, who commissioned a government green paper on social care in 2017, said: “I am absolutely insistent that this needs to be the year for action and decision rather than kicking the can down the road any further.”

Although reports suggest the Treasury is blocking social care reform because of costs, the King’s Fund thinktank said concerns over affordability did not stand up to scrutiny. There were “pragmatic and workable solutions” on the table that would cost just 2% of what the UK currently pay for the NHS, they said.

Jennifer Dixon, the chief executive of the King’s Fund, said: “Given the weight of the case for change, the question is not whether social care reform is affordable but whether the government can afford to delay progress on an issue that could become its achilles heel.”

Campaigners and care sector leaders warned lack of progress on reform was likely to exacerbate existing problems around the quality of care services, reductions in the level of support given to people in need, the increasing reliance on unpaid carers, and chronic workforce shortages.

The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services called on ministers to set out a roadmap for reform before the summer: “Too many of us are not getting the care and support we need, and every delay means that more older and disabled people, families and carers are being left to struggle.”

Related: Queen’s speech unveils Johnson’s plans on free speech, policing and voter ID

Adass said councils in England were expecting to have to make around £608m of savings this year, with the likelihood that increasing numbers of providers would be forced to give up the contract or go bust, a situation exacerbated by the pandemic, which had seen a decline in care home occupancy rates.

A survey of 72 learning disability providers by the charity HFT found that nearly two-thirds reported having closed services or handed back unviable contracts to councils over recent months because of financial pressures. A third planned to make staff redundant while over half said they were in financial deficit.

Martin Green, the chief executive of Care England, which represents independent social care providers, said: “Without the much needed, not to mention heralded, reform it is questionable as to how much longer the sector can be expected to limp on.

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