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Prime minister contenders urged to embrace NHS-style social care funding

Will next PM face up to social care crisis?

bbc debate

Johnson and Hunt have been sparring over Brexit - but have been told the social care crisis cannot be ignored (Image: BBC debate)

As the competition to decide who will be the next Conservative party leader and prime minister enters its final weeks, the two contenders have been urged to confront the UK’s social care crisis.

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt are vying for the votes of 160,000 Conservative party members, with the ballot counted and the winner announced on 23 July.

Campaigning has so far been dominated by the subject of Brexit, with Hunt and Johnson competing to convince party members that they are the man to break the impasse – even if it takes leaving the EU with no deal.

However, other non-Brexit issues are intruding on the contest, and today the House of Lords has published an attention-grabbing report calling for radical reform of the UK’s social care system.

The Lords Economic Affairs Committee report is entitled ‘Social care funding: time to end a national scandal’ and says an urgent injection of £8bn is needed to stabilise care services to ‘acceptable’ levels, and then proposes the introduction of a free personal care system funded through general taxation.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, chairman of the Economic Affairs Committee, said:

“Social care is severely underfunded. More than a million adults who need social care aren't receiving it, family and friends are being put under greater pressure to provide unpaid care, and the care workforce continues to be underpaid and undervalued."

He added that the whole system is “riddled with unfairness” whereby someone with dementia can pay hundreds of thousands of pounds for their care, while someone with cancer receives it for free.

The ageing population is fuelling an ever-rising cost of social care, but successive governments over the last decade have failed to address these pressures. Theresa May’s government had promised to publish a Green Paper (an initial scoping of potential reforms and legislation), but have repeatedly delayed its publication.

Lord Forsyth added: “Government has ducked the question for too long. They need to publish a White Paper [ie firmer legislation plans] not a Green Paper, with clear proposals for change now. We think that change should include the introduction of free personal care, ensuring those with critical needs can receive help with essential daily activities like washing, dressing and cooking.”

“Our recommendations will cost money, but social care should be a public spending priority. By 2023/24, the NHS funding will have increased by £20.5bn per year. This is more than the entirety of local authority adult social care expenditure.”

hands

The report calls for an urgent £8bn funding increase 

The Lords' inquiry found that local authority funding is £700m lower today than 2010/11 in real terms, despite continuing growing numbers of people who need care.

The Health Foundation and The King’s Fund estimate that to return quality and access to levels observed in 2009/10, the government would need to spend £8bn.

Sally Warren, Director of Policy at The King’s Fund said: "The social care system is no longer fit for purpose and is failing the people who use it, their families and carers."

She said the think tank welcomed the committee’s call to move towards a more generous system which would give more people access to publicly-funded social care as a useful contribution to the public debate.

“Any kind of fundamental reform will require more money – but continuing to patch up the current, failing system would also be costly and would not tackle its fundamental flaws which impact on families every day.

"Politicians must therefore be honest with the public about the shortcomings of the current system and the costs of reform."

She concludes: "Reforming social care is now one of the most urgent and important social policy issue facing the country and should be at the top of the agenda for the new Prime Minister."

Johnson and Hunt: policies and promises

Jeremy Hunt knows the issue very well from his time as health secretary, and has described transforming care for the elderly as one of his "social missions."

He says a 10-year plan is needed to return the system to a sustainable financial footing, and has pledged to introduce a personal insurance scheme if he becomes prime minister.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Hunt said people should be "encouraged and incentivised" to save for their own care, and has proposed an auto-enrol scheme, but one which allows members to opt-out.

He added that greater integration of social care with the NHS was required so those with needs were not "pushed from pillar to post between one system and another".

"The other thing we need to is more money for local councils. I accept that there are funding difficulties", he added.

Boris Johnson hasn’t set out detailed plans of his own on social care, but says more money should be found for services, with a long-term policy agreed via a plan agreed across political parties.

However current Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond has expressed concerns about the promises of simultaneous big spending increases and tax cuts being made by both candidates.

Johnson has promised to spend almost £5bn a year more on education, while lowering income tax rates, while Hunt say he will create a £6bn ‘war chest’ to help farms and fishing overcome the effects of Brexit, and also lower corporation tax.

While the latter is attractive to businesses like pharma, the industry also relies on sufficient funding to support health and social care, including budgets for new medicines.

Philip Hammond warned Hunt and Johnson earlier this week to “be honest” as their pledges “greatly exceed” Treasury resources, but the two candidates are converging around eye-catching promises in order to gain the upper hand in the Conservative party ballot.

Article by
Andrew McConaghie

4th July 2019

From: Healthcare

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