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Absence of social care plan a ‘missed opportunity’, warns sector

·5-min read
 (PA)
(PA)

Social care charities were dismayed by the absence in the Queen’s Speech of long-awaited legislation to reform funding of the sector.

Almost two years after Boris Johnson declared on his first day in 10 Downing Street that he had “a clear plan” already prepared to deal with the intractable problem, the government today promised only to “bring forward proposals” over the course of the next year.

Care England, which represents independent providers, described the absence of a bill as “a missed opportunity”, while the Alzheimer’s Society said that “vague promises are no longer enough”.

“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,” said Care England CEO Prof Martin Green.

And Richard Kramer, chief executive of national disability charity Sense, said: “It is not acceptable for disabled people, and others who use social care, to fall foul of financial trade-offs or bartering between government departments – this is about people’s lives and it’s time social care reform is given the urgent attention it needs.

“It’s been nearly two years since Boris Johnson promised he would ‘fix’ social care, and after a year of immense pressure on an already outdated system, long-awaited and promised reforms still fail to materialise. Without immediate reform, disabled people and their families will continue to experience hardship and this cannot be allowed to continue.”

It is understood that the prime minister favours a version of the plan put forward in 2011 by Sir Andrew Dilnot, under which lifetime spending on care would be capped.

But progress is thought to have run into the sand amid arguments over the eye-watering cost.

Today’s package includes a Health and Care Bill to more closely integrate the social care system with the NHS, but with little indication of how this will be done.

But on the funding of social care in England it says only that “proposals on social care reform will be brought forward”.

And Prof Green said: “A sector that supports and employs vast swathes of the population cannot be ignored. We stand ready and willing to help the government deliver its manifesto commitment, but the Health and Care Bill is not the vehicle to deliver this huge shift”.

Government sources said that proposals will be published before the end of 2021 to help a sector which they admitted has “never been under as much pressure”.

The government promised to “listen and engage with staff groups” when drawing up changes

Sources said that the Health and Care Bill will include provisions to improve the oversight of how social care is commissioned and delivered, and will put integrated care systems on a statutory footing across the UK to drive closer working with the NHS.

Charities like Age UK have branded the condition of the nation’s care system a “crisis”.

Since 2010, Conservative-led governments have cut spending on adult social care by £86 million despite a rapidly increasing demand because of the UK’s ageing population.

An estimated 1.5 million people aged 65 and over don’t receive the care and support they need with essential living activities, with a postcode lottery meaning provision varies widely in different areas.

The issue has bedevilled a succession of governments of all political stripes, but Mr Johnson claimed to have solved it in his speech on the steps of Downing Street in July 2019, when he said: “We will fix the crisis in social care once and for all with a clear plan we have prepared to give every older person the dignity and security they deserve.”

He has since been unable to spell out how such a plan would work but has repeatedly said that his goal would be to lift the fear that older people will have to sell their home to pay for the costs of care.

The 2011 Dilnot commission recommended a much more generous means test and a lifetime ‘cap’ of between £25,000 and £50,000 on social care costs to relieve the pressure on individuals who currently bear the financial brunt if they need long-term care.

Demand is rapidly growing, with 1.9m requests for adult social care in 2019/20, 6 per cent up since 2015/16. Over the next 20 years, the number of people aged 75 and over is expected to grow by almost 60 per cent in England - an additional 2.7 million people.

Fiona Carragher, director of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Vague promises are no longer enough.

“The pandemic has exposed the cracks in our failing social care system. It is time for the government to take the next vital steps and honour their promises with a concrete plan for the 850,000 people with dementia in the UK.”

The chief executive of Independent Age, Deborah Alsina, said the charity was “extremely disappointed” by the lack of detailed announcements on care.

“We are frustrated that the can, yet again, has been kicked down the road, despite this government promising in 2019 that it would transform our social care system,” said Ms Alsina. “Vague slogans won’t ensure people receive the care and support they need.

“Over the last few months we have seen how quickly government can spring into action when motivated to do so, whether to re-open pubs, save summer holidays or stop breakaway football leagues. Similar levels of energy and commitment are needed when it comes to reforming social care for everyone who needs it. “

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