The government’s apparent intention to press ahead with a social care green paper has been widely welcomed, but fundamental questions remain over how it will address the funding challenge following the ‘dementia tax’ row.
The Conservative manifesto pledged to expand social care means testing to recipients of home care and introduce a £100,000 asset floor below which people would not have to contribute anything towards the costs of their care. Following a huge political row centred on how the families of those with long-term conditions requiring social care, such as dementia, would be hit the prime minister also said her government would also introduce a cap on care costs, but did not say what level it would be set at.
The Queen’s Speech promised a consultation but notes published alongside it were vague about what it could contain, saying only it would “set out options to improve the social care system and to put it on a more secure financial footing”.
The notes also said the consultation would seek to “address issues related to the quality of care and variation in practice” and highlighted a “threefold variation” in the proportion of care providers rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by the Care Quality Commission between council areas.
Richard Humphries, senior fellow at the King’s Fund, told LGC it was “encouraging” the Queen’s Speech confirmed the manifesto commitment to bring forward a green paper on social care and said it was “entirely predictable” that the row over the so-called dementia tax would impact upon the content.
“Clearly the funding plans are in disarray politically, the question is whether the green paper team can rise above the political fray,” he said. “They’ll need to go back to the drawing board about where the money’s going to come from.”
The Conservative manifesto had originally proposed making additional cash available for social care by introducing a means test for the winter fuel allowance and ending the triple lock which sees state pensions rise by whichever is the greater of inflation, earnings growth or 2.5%. However, neither of these policies were mentioned in the Queen’s Speech this morning, raising further questions over how social care could be funded.
Mr Humphries said timing would also be crucial. Before the election the government had committed to publishing the green paper in the autumn of this year but there was no mention of a timetable in today’s speech.
Margaret Willcox, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, also welcomed plans for a consultation but warned that the government must keep social care “at the top of its to-do list”.
She said: “A wide ranging public debate is needed to future-proof the provision of care in the most fair and affordable way.
“Crucial to this is the promised green paper, which must be realised, unlike numerous previous pledges of reform by successive governments which have fallen by the wayside.”
Local Government Information Unit chief executive Jonathan Carr-West said the Queen’s Speech hovered “around the edges rather than directly confronting the big questions”, including on social care.
He added: “Local government thus finds itself dragged into the uncertainty that is afflicting Parliament. Councils can and will continue to deliver the local services that people depend upon. But if local government is to plan effectively for the future, it desperately needs more clarity on the big issues than is promised by today’s Queen’s Speech.”