Disabled campaigners have reacted with alarm to the government’s decision that it will not address the social care funding crisis until the end of next year, despite announcing billions of pounds a year extra for the NHS.
Despite saying in a speech that ministers “know we need to improve social care”, prime minister Theresa May said a new funding settlement for social care would not be announced until the next spending review, expected at the end of 2019.
The health and social care secretary, Jeremy Hunt, also told MPs that the government’s green paper on older people’s social care – which had been expected next month – would now be delayed until the autumn so it could be published at “around the same time” as a new 10-year plan for the NHS.
Hunt had earlier told the BBC that the government would also produce “a long-term plan for social care” but that ministers “can’t do all these things at the same time”.
The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) had not been able by 1pm today (Thursday) to explain whether its parallel piece of work on working-age disabled adults and social care had also been delayed until the autumn.
A DHSC spokeswoman had refused to comment when asked why the social care funding crisis was not being addressed at the same time as NHS funding.
May and Hunt announced an average real terms increase in NHS funding of 3.4 per cent a year from 2019-20 to 2023-24, which will see NHS England’s budget increase by £20.5 billion in real terms by 2023-24.
Although the government will not say how the NHS increase will be funded until the chancellor delivers his budget at the end of this year, the increase in funding was broadly welcomed.
But there was frustration among disabled commentators and campaigners that – yet again – ministers had failed to address the need for a major increase in social care funding.
Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of the national service-user network Shaping Our Lives, said: “What’s most worrying about the failure to announce matched new funding for social care to go with the promised big hike in resources for the NHS is that it suggests this government still doesn’t recognise the inter-dependence of the two.
“This despite recently broadening the secretary of state’s role explicitly to include social care.
“We should be very afraid. The signs are that this announcement re NHS funding is essentially about getting policy rhetoric in line in advance of the next general election.
“They know they are vulnerable on the NHS.
“The fact that there’s a big hole where radical improvements to social care policy and funding are concerned means that either this government is unwilling to face up to this massive challenge or it just doesn’t know how to.
“This is terrible news for all older and disabled people and our families.”
Sue Bott (pictured), deputy chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “It is very disappointing that, once again, the government has failed to get to grips with the importance that social care support plays in the lives of disabled people.
“The president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, Glen Garrod, is correct in stating that only funding the NHS and failing to fund social care is like ‘pouring water down the sink with no plug in’.
“For us to live our lives to the full requires an understanding of how services and funding impact each other.
“Sadly, such understanding is not there, resulting in poor quality of life for many disabled people.”
Dr Marc Bush, a member of the disability advisory committee of the Equality and Human Rights Commission – although speaking for himself and not on behalf of the committee – said: “The government is right to increase the NHS financial settlement, and the focus must now turn to the crisis in adult social care.”
He said disabled people’s hopes had been raised when Hunt changed his title from health secretary to health and social care secretary.
But he said their interests had now been “sidelined”, as “commentators and politicians alike continue to debate the interests of older people, leaving to one side the needs of the third of people using care services who are of working-age and disabled, or living with long-term conditions”.
Bush, a visiting professor in public health at the University of Northampton, said social care was “crucial to disabled people’s lives, dignity, and ability to live independently”.
And he pointed to the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, which last autumn “called for urgent action from the UK government to ensure that disabled people were provided with adequate support to live independent lives”.
He said: “Clarity is urgently needed on a sustainable and long-term financial settlement for adult social care.
“Many of us will remember the promises made by previous administrations and during the passing of the Care Act [in 2014].
“We can’t afford another empty promise, the human cost to disabled people and their families is too great.
“This morning, Jeremy Hunt said: ‘There will be a time for social care.’ That time is now!”