Tag Archives: Big Care Debate

Care funding commission must consider all adults

Here we go again. Today sees the launch of the latest Commission on the Funding of Care and Support (catchy title) for adults.

We’ve been here before, most recently with last year’s Big Care Debate. That got as far as a White Paper before the election, but as soon as the government changed the proposals were swiftly dropped. So we’re back to square one. Again.

Nevertheless, the new commission has been detailed to report back within a year. Health secretary Andrew Lansley expects legislation in front of Parliament next year, and it will eventually form part of a larger White Paper that also takes in the Law Commission’s work on creating a single modern statute for social care, and the Government’s vision for social care.

The commission will focus on:

  • The best way to meet care and support costs as a partnership between individuals and the state
  • How an individual’s assets are protected against the cost of care
  • How public funding for the care and support system can be best used to meet needs
  • How its preferred option can be delivered, including an indication of the timescale for implementation, and its impact on local government (and the local government finance system), the NHS, and – if appropriate – financial regulation.

The politicians have, as usual, made all the right noises about this; for instance, Lansley said; “we must develop a funding system for adult care and support that offers choice, is fair, provides value for money and is sustainable for the public finances in the long term.”

All regulation political guff and nothing that anybody disagrees with; it’s just that successive ministers have said this for some years, so its hard not to feel cynical.

But reading between the lines, service users should not get their hopes up that reform will improve things too much. As care services minister Paul Burstow said: “Trade offs will have to be made but we are determined to build a funding system that is fair, affordable and sustainable.”

Trade offs? Is that a euphemism? To me, that is a subtle way of saying that to get to a solution, some existing ways of being funded may have to be axed/cut back. However, this is just speculation on my part – I may be reading too much into it.

But the commission does take place against the backdrop of swingeing budget cuts and this will form a major spoke in their thinking, hence why a leading economist, Andrew Dilnot, has been chosen to chair it.

He will be assisted by the CQC’s Dame Jo Williams and Lord Norman Warner, a Labour peer and former director of Kent social services – and also an outspoken critic of Gordon Brown’s free personal care at home policy earlier in the year – who will help to ensure that the commission does not just focus on the numbers.

As with the last commission, a range of funding options will be assessed, including a voluntary insurance scheme, as favoured by the Conservatives, and a partnership of state and individual contributions, the Liberal Democrats’ preferred option. No mentions of a compulsory levy – aka Labour’s “Death Tax” – being considered in the press release however, so we can assume that that won’t be an option.

But if this is to be successful the commission has to look at funding care for all adults. One of the criticisms of Labour’s last attempt was that it focused too much on older people – especially the voter-winning solution to people having to sell their houses to pay for care – with people with disabilities sidelined.

While older people do make up a significant proportion of those receiving care services, those with disabilities are just as important and any solution has to appreciate their needs and circumstances as well.

The solution also must been seen to improve – or at the very least not cut – services, if it is to get widespread acceptance from the public. Again, this will require doing more with less – a neat trick if you can pull it off.

But what the commission must do above all is to come up with a conclusion. The Big Care Debate had 3 options, but no one option was significantly ahead of the others. This commission should look at all the options and consult widely with frontline workers and service users before making a decision – and then sticking to it.

Coming up with a solution to funding adult social care is not going to be easy – otherwise it would have been done years ago – but this time it needs to happen. However, while some tough choices will have to be made – the financial situation is inescapable – the option of doing nothing is even worse for service users.

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What happened to social care in election debate?

After 3 weeks out of the country – I was one of those caught up in the volcanic ash crisis – I’m getting back up to speed with what’s been happening in social care and where the main parties stand on it before the election.

There was precious little mention of social care or older people in last night’s TV debate – well, the bit I watched before jet-lag caught up with me – but I haven’t seen much else about it in the news. I’m told there was not much talk about it while I was away either.

Considering that social care was supposed to be one of the main debating points in this election, everyone seems to have gone quiet on it since Labour announced its White Paper on the future of social care and plans for a National Care Service.

But while we know about Labour’s plans, you have to look hard to find the Conservative and Liberal Democrat policies on older people – social care as a category isn’t there, disappointingly.

More disappointing is the lack of concrete policies. For instance, the Conservatives pledge to introduce a ‘home protection scheme’ to ensure people don’t have to sell their homes to pay for care, but don’t say how it would work, or how it would be funded.

They do however advocate the extension of direct payments and individual budgets to give people more choice and control over their care. While this is a continuation of an existing policy, it does hint that if the Tories win, they may not make fundamental changes to the personalisation agenda.

Meanwhile, the Lib Dems say they would undertake a review of social care. It’s difficult not to be sarcastic about that pledge – hasn’t the sector had enough of those in recent years?

More promisingly, they talk about re-establishing the link between the basic state pension and earnings.

There has also been little mention of the future of social work, although there are fears among some social workers that cuts to frontline services may be made; there have been assurances that teachers, doctors and nurses will not be axed, but no such declarations made for social work.

So, the future of social care, one of the bigger issues facing the UK, has once again been swept under the carpet. In a way it is not surprising, because there are no easy answers or snappy soundbites and some of the solutions may not be vote-winners. But it should have been a key part of the debate because this will affect everyone in the UK at some point.

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Little honesty in social care debate

So, the political mud-slinging has begun in earnest. As the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats all strive to tell you how bad the others are (or would be), reasoned debate goes out of the window.

The Tories have landed the first blow, accusing Labour of planning a £20,000 “Death Tax” to be levied on all estates after death.

To ram the point home, a new poster was revealed depicting a gravestone engraved with ‘RIP Off’ (see what they did there?) and the slogan: ‘Now Gordon wants £20,000 when you die.’

Health secretary Andy Burnham has rejected this accusation (or hinted that the party is planning it, depending on which paper you read), saying that “firm proposals” will be set out before the election – one assumes he means the White Paper on adult social care funding, which is still being promised, although time is fast running out if it is to appear before the election.

Currently, Labour is sticking to its line that it is considering the outcomes of the Big Care Debate, which took place last autumn after the release of the green paper on the future of adult social care funding.

The Conservatives have said even less, apart from their £8,000 voluntary insurance scheme.

Responding to this, another other related stories, Stephen Burke, chief executive of Counsel and Care, a charity that works with older people, their families and carers, has appealed for an “honest and serious” debate that recognises that better care will cost more, and that radical reform and proper funding is required.

While many people in the social care sector will agree wholeheartedly with that call, the chances of such a debate happening are virtually nil.

Also, any hopes of a cross-party consensus on the future of social care – something various social care commentators have called for – now appear dead and buried.

With the parties now getting into the swing of electioneering, everything they say will be geared to getting your vote. So a reasoned debate on the future of care funding will not happen, because it will require some tough – i.e. not popular – decisions to be made, if a crisis of care is to be averted. No politician is going to say anything that might lose them votes.

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Big Care Debate – any closer to a solution?

The Big Care Debate closed last Friday (the 13th, ominously, for those of a superstitious bent) ending the consultation on the government’s green paper, Shaping the future of care together , which set out the government’s options for the future funding of adult social care.

Now, the Department of Health will go away and contemplate the results, before, in theory, coming back with a White Paper, possibly in early 2010.

But with an election looming, I wonder if any of it will actually get through and make it into law.  

A spokesperson from the DH told me earlier in the year that if there is no consensus from the Big Care Debate on the best way forward, then it may go to a further period of consultation.

Looking at the reactions to the green paper from various groups, there seems to be little consensus; there have been criticisms, notably from mental health and learning disability groups, that the green paper focused on too much on older people. Indeed, much of the media focus has been on old age care funding and people not having to sell their homes to pay for residential care costs.

But then, older people’s groups, such as the National Pensioners’ Convention, have also voiced dismay over the government’s dismissal of the option to pay for care from direct taxation.

This option also found favour in a Joseph Rowntree Foundation survey. But then other organisations have supported the partnership and comprehensive models of funding the government suggested, which involve insurance and some state provision or the creation of a National Care Service.

If this is reflected among the wider responses, then we could be in for further consultation, which neatly kicks the debate into election time, when nothing concrete will happen because every politician will be scrapping for votes.

So, it seems like the social care industry will be in limbo for some time to come. And all the while the current regime will continue to creak along, and the problems within it will continue to mount, and – crucially – service users will continue to suffer at the hands of a much-disliked and over-complicated funding system.

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