The government could be forced into further delays to its social care charging reforms, if it decides under-pressure councils will not be able to cope with the “big new chunk” of “complicated work”, evidence from a senior civil servant suggests.
Sir Chris Wormald, permanent secretary at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), was giving evidence yesterday (Wednesday) to the Commons public accounts committee as part of its inquiry on reforming adult social care in England.
In November 2022, chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced a delay of another two years to long-awaited government reforms – widely seen as regressive and unfair – that would have introduced a lifetime cap of £86,000 on how much anyone pays for social care in England.
The reforms were based on some of the recommendations made by the 2011 Dilnot commission on care funding.
Hunt said the government was delaying their introduction from October 2023 to October 2025, telling parliament he had listened to the “very real concerns from local authorities, particularly about their ability to deliver the Dilnot reforms immediately”.
Sir Chris (pictured) told the committee yesterday that the government had been “considering what form the rollout from October 2025 will take and we will be making further announcements on the implementation planning in due course”.
Michelle Dyson, DHSC’s director general for adult social care, said the department had been ready to start the reforms in October 2023, with six “trailblazer” local authorities “who were ready to turn on the system”.
But she said “it wasn’t a delivery challenge, it was a money challenge, so that’s why we delayed it and that’s why we redirected the money from charging reform into the system”.
But Sir Chris suggested just five minutes later that there had also been a delivery challenge.
He said: “One of the reasons for the delay in the first place was the capacity of local authorities to be able to do the work alongside all the other pressures, and that continues to be a concern for us.
“The government has been considering exactly what the form of the rollout is and one of the considerations will be what are local authorities able to do, given all the other pressures on local authorities.”
He added: “We all know the pressures on local government and what they’re having to do, not just in social care but across the piece, and before we give them a big new chunk of…. really quite complicated work we will want to be sure that they are able to do it well.”
The committee was hearing its evidence as Michael Gove, the levelling up, housing and communities secretary, announced £500 million in new ringfenced funding for social care in England.
He said the government had “listened to the sector” and “recognises that pressures on social care, including for children, have increased significantly”.
He suggested that much of the funding should be focused on children’s social care, telling MPs: “Where possible, councils should invest in areas that help place children’s social care services on a sustainable financial footing, whilst being mindful of the level of adult social care provision.”
But his written statement was published while the public accounts committee was taking evidence from Sir Chris, Dyson and a senior civil servant from Gove’s own department.
The committee’s chair, Labour MP Dame Meg Hillier, said: “We are investigating why that has been out late today because it is significant and it is sub-optimal, if I put it politely, that it appears mid-way through a public accounts committee hearing when it is pertinent to the subject we are discussing.”
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