Affairs of state

In July 2019, and in his first speech as Prime Minister, Boris Johnson said:

“We will fix the crisis in social care once and for all with a clear plan we have prepared to give every older person the dignity and security they deserve”.

The need to reform funding for adult social care – all the support services that help elderly people and adults with disabilities to remain in their own homes as well as the funding of residential care when that is the most appropriate or inevitable – has been crying out for urgent action for nearly twenty years.

There have been a number of Green (outline consultation) and White (proposals) Papers looking at this challenge. Governments have appointed two independent commissions: a Royal Commission on Long Term Care for the Elderly, reporting in 1999, and the Commission on the Funding of Care and Support, reporting in 2011. 

There has been an enormous amount of high-quality research by eminent academics and respected independent institutions. There have been cross-party proposals about the best way forward, including the joint all-party proposal from the Health and Social Care (chaired by Sarah Wollaston, then Conservative MP) and Housing, Communities and Local Government (chaired by me) Committees.

Of course, the big stumbling block is money. Not just the total amount of new funding that will be required to implement any reforms, but also the balance between individual and collective contributions and the distribution across and between taxpayers, and whether those sums should be collected through particular taxes nationally or locally.

I know I should not be surprised, but it makes me quite angry when I hear how often some Conservative MPs campaign for cuts in Inheritance Tax to benefit a small number of already wealthy families whilst remaining silent about the impact of the current social care contributions which can devastate the finances of households of very modest means just because a member of that family requires long-term residential care.

The Commission on the Funding of Care and Support’s proposed cap on lifetime social care charges and a more generous means-test was ditched by Theresa May’s government in 2015. After much pressure, in March 2017, she announced a new Green Paper which would set out options, including a more generous means-test limit, a cap on lifetime social care costs, insurance and other ideas. That report was promised by the summer of 2017.

Summer 2017 went and gone with no sight of the Green Paper. Between then and November 2018, the Conservative government announced 5 deadlines for publication – a new one each time it failed to meet the last. Since then, every enquiry has been met with ‘at the earliest opportunity’.

This month, No 10 sources have been feeding their favoured journalists with the suggestion that the idea of a Green Paper is to be abandoned and that the government will move straight to a White Paper…on an unspecified timetable. Of course, the problem is that we are now in a situation where we can’t trust a word Boris Johnson says.

Mr Johnson seems to have a problem with women. As Matt Chorley of The Times put it today:

So you can ask (people) “Do you think the prime minister has questions to answer about his treatment of women?” and they are forced to respond: “Do you mean the one who said he groped her, the one who said she slept with him and got public money or the Queen?”

Perhaps Mr Chorley needs reminding that the majority of people supported through adult social care – or worse, not supported through adult social care as more than 500,000 fewer elderly people are now receiving home care than a decade ago because of the government cuts – are women.

When it comes to the media’s coverage of Mr Johnson’s affairs of state relating to women, perhaps they might include a question about adult social care funding?

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