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by GK Strategy 14th September, 2018

Social care and why the Government can’t think radically

With the Government hinting that the publication of its long-awaiting green paper on social care could be delayed again, the need for the Government to think radically has become ever more acute.

By delaying the green paper, the Government is making it increasingly difficult to give the sensitive policy area careful consideration and feed the results into the 2019 spending review.

Context

The green paper, first announced in November 2017, set out proposals to improve care and support for older people. It was originally set for publication in summer 2018, but was delayed until the autumn, after the long-term funding plan for the NHS was revealed.

However, the NHS funding settlement – a 3.4% increase in spending over 5 years – although welcome, crucially fails to consider social care.

The green paper is an opportunity the Government must seize. A sustainable funding model is essential to reduce pressure on frontline services and stabilise a provider market, which is at risk of collapse. With people living longer and their care need becoming increasingly complex and acute, the Government needs to take bold decisions to future-proof the system.

Indeed, recent polling by YouGov has also shown that a majority (69%) of adults would be willing to pay extra tax to fund universal personal care. However, many on the Conservative backbenches would be wary of such a policy in light of the ‘dementia tax’ u-turn during the 2017 General Election campaign. Chancellor Phillip Hammond, who already needs to find a new way of raising funds to meet the NHS funding settlement, is also likely to reject increased any moves to increase taxation.

So what solutions are on the table?

Minister of State for Care, Caroline Dinenage has said the Government is predominately looking to introduce a cap on the cost of care, rather than new tax proposals. Dinenage has also dismissed the recommendation by the Housing, Communities and Local Government and Health and Social Care Committees’ which called for the introduction of a ‘social care premium’ – either as an additional element of National Insurance or with the premium paid into dedicated not-for-profit social insurance fund to be used solely for social care.

The Government was also said to be considering a ‘Care Isa’, which would be exempt from inheritance tax and have an allowance on its own to reflect care costs. However, this was branded ineffective by experts and criticised by Dr Sarah Wollaston, Chair of the Commons Health and Social Care Committee. Wollaston tweeted her frustration at the proposal stating that it would only ‘solve’ the issues for a small minority.

Radical policy proposals look set to be kicked into the long grass – even with an ever growing political consensus that a funding solution for social care is urgently needed. A parliamentary commission, on whose conclusions the Government could lean, would offer a way forward, but at present looks unlikely to emerge.

Indeed, the continued delay of the green paper is representative of the Government’s domestic policy paralysis. With Brexit dominating the legislative sphere, and the current tensions within the Conservative Party, social care looks set to continue to fail to receive the attention it deserves.

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