While the announcement of free personal domiciliary care for those with the greatest need was a central point of today’s Queen’s Speech, finding anyone with a positive outlook on it is difficult.
The combined weight of anti-government feeling and deep-rooted cynicism in the care sector means that the policy has been given a lukewarm response at best.
Critics cite a number of problems that haven’t been properly answered. For example, many question the costs involved; it is said to cost £670 million a year, but nobody seems to believe that. Also everyone wonders where the money for that is coming from – woolly references to ‘costs savings elsewhere in the NHS’ don’t cut it. Some also suspect councils will start to get tougher on what exactly constitutes ‘substantial and critical’ needs in a bid to save money.
It also doesn’t address the media’s perennial favourite topic of people having to sell their homes to pay for residential care. Health minister Andy Burnham admitted on Radio 5Live this morning that when someone needs to move into residential care, they will have to pay for that as they would within the current system.
It is, as Labour admits, an interim measure before the full adult social care white paper is published – but no-one quite knows when that will be, or indeed if it will get published.
The cynic in me wonders if this is just an early bit of electioneering, attempting to embarrass the Conservatives if they decided to ditch the policy, and painting Labour as a ‘caring’ party.
Indeed, whatever the pluses and minuses of this policy, it is still unlikely to make it onto the statute book before the election comes – there are only 70 working days left before the election and Tory peers have vowed to hold up legislation in the House of Lords, if it gets there.
While the idea is good – it could help 400,000 people – it does not solve the social care problem, and this seems to be one of the big criticisms. Social care needs a radical overhaul, and this only goes a relatively small part of the way. The next government – whichever party it is – needs to go much further.