Government accused of ‘missed opportunity’ over social care reform

·4 min read
Social care - Hugh R Hastings /Getty Images
Social care - Hugh R Hastings /Getty Images

The Government has pledged to bring forward proposals for social care reform this year – but the omission of specific measures in the Queen’s Speech sparked criticism from MPs and care groups.

An overhaul of Britain’s creaking social care system was promised in the 2019 Conservative manifesto, with the Covid pandemic having since highlighted the need for an urgent revamp of the current model.

Critics have accused Boris Johnson of dragging his feet and heaped scorn on his claim, when he entered Downing Street two years ago, that he had already prepared a “clear plan” to fix the social care system.

Introducing the Queen's Speech on Tuesday, the Prime Minister said: “Later in the year we will bring forward proposals to reform adult social care so that every person receives the dignity and security they deserve.”

Jacob Rees Mogg, the Leader of the Commons, later said ministers would spell out how they intended to pay for reforms, telling Times Radio: “The Government has committed to bringing forward a detailed funding plan as well... by the end of the year.”

Senior Conservatives welcomed the mention of social care in the proposals but criticised the failure to give a firm promise to introduce legislation or reforms by the end of 2021.

Jeremy Hunt, a former Health Secretary, told The Telegraph: “At least it was in the QS [Queen’s Speech] and I think the Government heard loud and clear the need to fix the problem, not kick the can down the road.”

Fellow Tory MP Damian Green had said before the Queen’s Speech he was “frustrated that it has taken so long to get to this stage”, later insisting “this has got to be the year where we bite this bullet” but adding he was “confident” that ministers would set out a way forward in coming months.

Theresa May, the former prime minister ,urged Mr Johnson to “grasp” sustainable reform, arguing that the Covid crisis had exposed the problems with the current system and warning that the next blueprint must “not exacerbate inter-generational divisions”.

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, called the failure to take immediate action “nothing short of an insult to the whole nation”.

Prof Martin Green, the chief executive of Care England, said: “This is a missed opportunity. It is questionable as to how much longer the sector can be expected to limp on. A sector that supports and employs vast swathes of the population cannot be ignored.”

Mike Padgham, the chairman of the Independent Care Group, accused Mr Johnson of “just paying lip service to the reform that is now so long overdue”, saying older and vulnerable people had been “betrayed” and reform had been “pushed down the road”.

The National Care Forum, which represents not-for-profit providers, said the Government must fix the system “fully and swiftly”.

Reform is set to be complex and costly, making it a political quagmire that a succession of administrations has avoided despite similar promises to grasp the nettle

The timetable unveiled on Tuesday imposes pressure on Mr Johnson to agree a way forward with Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, amid concerns among Treasury officials over the price of transforming the model. The pair met to explore options last month.

The Prime Minister is said to favour the decade-old blueprint put forward by the economist Sir Andrew Dilnot, who recommended capping lifetime care costs for individuals at between £25,000 and £50,000 with the state covering the rest.

Sir Andrew's 2011 report also recommended increasing the “floor” or asset threshold below which people would receive means-tested state support towards the cost of their care from the current level of £23,250 to £100,000.

Government sources last week warned that Mr Johnson would have to break his “tax lock” manifesto pledge to fund social care reform if he insisted on pushing ahead with the “incredibly expensive” option.

Mr Hunt, who has backed a cap on the cost of care, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s an incredible worry for people. It’s a lottery. You don’t know, that could be you. I think in a civilised society we should find a way of taking away that worry.”