Coalition kicks social care reform into long grass

The wait is finally over for social care; now we know what the coalition’s plans are for the sector.

Looking at what the government has published – see here for the full rundown – it is a mixture of reform and continuing existing policy.

Firstly, as expected, Labour’s National Care Service plans have been abandoned. This is clear from the announcement that a new commission on long-term care will be established to report back within a year.

I’ve said before that the last thing the sector needs is yet another commission on the future of long-term care. We had that last year with the Big Care Debate, and others previously. Precisely what differences a new commission will find I don’t know. It just seems like a way of kicking the issue into the long grass and delaying some difficult decisions. Again.

Also, the lack of reference to disabled people in the plans – one mention under the Access to Work proposal – shows the main thinking of any reform is geared to older people.

But interestingly, it says the commission will consider several options; not just the Conservative plan for a voluntary insurance scheme, but also Derek Wanless’ partnership model, where the state and the individual both contribute to care costs.

This is significant because when the results of the Big Care Debate came out, the partnership model was most popular among respondents, and some third sector organisations had also publicly backed such a scheme. It also shows that the Tories may be backing away from their widely-derided option.

Elsewhere, the existing personal budgets and direct payments schemes are to be extended, giving more service users control over their care. This is no surprise – it fits nicely with the coalition’s plans to devolve more power to communities as part of their ‘Big Society’ reforms.

Despite rumblings that some social workers are losing faith with personalisation, the extension of it is generally good news for service users who want to take control over their care, and means no significant upheaval for adult social work departments.

Also, as expected, there will be greater integration of health and social care funding, to focus on preventative action, access to respite care will be improved and Access to Work will be reformed.

So, while there are positives in the announcement, the overriding sense is of disappointment. Firstly that disabled people seem to have been overlooked, and that the much-needed reform of long-term care has again been put back until at least next year. The whole sector has been crying out for reform for years, and another commission – to tell us what we already know – does not help. Why can’t the information in last year’s Big Care Debate be used to put together a coalition white paper on social care reform? Or is that too obvious?

A blog on the plans for families and children will also appear later.

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Filed under adult social care, Social care funding

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