After all the courting of the past few days, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have finally decided on a political marriage. But what will this mean for social care?
Now the dust is settling, here is a little of what is known, plus some conjecture and guesswork.
Firstly, it means that Labour’s plans for a National Care Service are dead. The Tories always opposed it, and the Lib Dems also had problems with it, so it’s a definite no-go. This means that social care will go back to square one, waiting again for the reform it so badly needs.
On the upside, it looks likely that plans for a set of national eligibility criteria for social care services, proposed by Labour, will be brought in as the coalition parties also both support it. This should end the ‘postcode lottery’ of unfairness in social care and can only be a good thing.
Now, things become less clear; we know there will be big public sector spending cuts in the Budget, which will probably be in June. Both parties have denied that it will hit frontline services, but councils will have to make some big savings and services could be hit – such as scrapping some services that are not perceived to deliver value for money – and eligibility criteria could be ramped up again.
I suspect that a new White Paper on the future of social care may be commissioned in the near future. The Liberals are in favour of (yet another) commission on reforming care funding, but the Tories aren’t, so action may come relatively quickly – we all know the problems in the sector, they just need to be addressed.
Whether the Conservatives’ stated plan for a voluntary £8,000 insurance scheme to pay for elderly residential care comes to pass remains to be seen.
Both parties were relatively light on detail about reform in their respective manifestos, but there were differing ideas, such as the Lib Dem idea of giving all carers one week of respite, so it is hard so say in which direction the government will go.
Also, remember there were the secret cross-party talks about the future of social care earlier in the year – which Andrew Lansley, the new health secretary, scuppered – could anything come out from that?
Hopefully in the coming weeks we will hear something more concrete about what will happen to social care. The sector needs reform quickly, so the coalition needs to work together to find the best solution – whatever that is…