More action needed in social care, but cross-party consensus is step in right direction
Newly elected prime minister Boris Johnson made a verbal pledge to solve the “crisis” facing adult social care on the steps of Downing Street back in August, and now with his majority in hand, attention will be turning to the manifesto promise that followed up on those words.
The Conservative manifesto declares that nobody will have to “sell their home” in order to pay for care, the document does not commit to any specific long-term plan after it proved the bane of Theresa May’s election campaign in 2017 over the so-called “dementia tax”.
As a priority for its first 100 days in power, the Conservatives outlined that they would begin cross-party talks to address the long-term reform needed in adult social care.
Prior to the election, Labour shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth indicated that his party would be happy to work in such a manner, however, there has been nothing to suggest what form the talks would take or when they will occur.
Experts have warned that the extra £1 billion per year promised for the next five years will not be sufficient to prop up an ailing social care system, particularly so since the funding will also be spread across children’s services. It is also a far inferior funding pot than the £3.5 billion that was pledged by Labour in the run up to polling day.
Where the additional funding required for social care will be generated also remains unknown, particularly as they have committed to not raising the rates of income tax, VAT and national insurance and ruled out borrowing to put toward day-to-day spending.
Extending access to deferred payment agreements is an option for those paying for care, but another could be removing a person’s home from being counted within existing means tests for residential care, which would make a vast number of extra individuals eligible for state help.
Public spending analysts at the Institute for Fiscal Studies did look into the latter idea, saying: “Whether this is even a step towards fixing the system is debatable, as it could mean unfair differences between people who hold more of their wealth in their house and those who hold more of it in financial assets – such as those who have traded down, or have been renting. It could also cost several billion pounds, which is unaccounted for.”
The Conservatives could revert to the Care Act which legislated for a cap on lifetime social care costs which has not yet been introduced. However, the Tories did rule out a cap back in 2017 and whether they would be willing to make such a U-turn now remains to be seen.
Holding cross-party talks will be a positive step on this issue, but whether a consensus can be reached is a different matter.