“Deeply unhelpful language” by both main political parties has stifled debate on the future of adult social care, the social care minister has said.
Caroline Dinenage also expressed frustration that her department had been “starved of political oxygen” during the political crisis over Brexit and attempted to temper expectations of what the promised green paper will deliver during an appearance at the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services Spring Seminar today.
Ms Dinenage told delegates she would “dearly like” political consensus on an approach to the crisis in social care and bemoaned that successive governments had found it “too difficult” to tackle the issue.
She said: “Political parties of both persuasions have used deeply unhelpful language in that process - it has been called a ‘death tax’, the ‘dementia tax’.
“I was hopeful that we had begun to get to the stage where people had put aside their party-political differences and really understand this is a crisis that needs to be tackled straight away.”
Ms Dinenage welcomed the publication yesterday of proposals by former cabinet minister Damian Green, who led the green paper process while he was in office, describing his report as “really good”.
“I wish he’d said more when he was secretary of state,” she added.
Mr Green proposed a new universal entitlement to adult social care based on the model of the state pension and suggested it could be funded through a tax on the winter fuel allowance or a 1% surcharge on national insurance contributions
However, Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell branded the surcharge idea a “tax on getting old”.
Ms Dinenage said the response to the proposals had shown “the veneer of what we like to think of as political harmony with a shared common interest… is not the case at all”.
“We do need to work together to deliver this because this problem is too tricky to be used as a political football. It is too desperate and too late,” she added. “It is up to this government to deliver a solution and it is up to all political parties to work together in a really collaborative way to enable that to happen.”
However, Ms Dinenage said repeated delays to the green paper had wrongly “raised expectations” that it will be an “immediate panacea” for problems in the system.
“I feel today an enormous sense of responsibility to point out that neither the green paper, or any government decision, whether local or national, will solve all the challenges that we face in adult social care,” she added.
Ms Dinenage said the political crisis in Westminster over Brexit had caused “confusion”, “frustration” and “uncertainty”, describing it as “the most unsettled and most unhappy time in my nine years as an MP”.
She added she also understood how difficult it has been for social care providers, staff and those receiving services “while politicians have been tying each other in knots over Brexit”.
“It does fell like for many months my department has been fighting for political oxygen, for a window of opportunity to deliver the green paper, Ms Dinenage said. “It has been hugely frustrating for me but, I’m sure even more for you and you have every right to feel frustrated and exasperated.”