Labour has promised an extra £3 billion a year to start the job of building a National Care Service, but has not said how it would reform the long-term funding of the social care system.
Barbara Keeley, the party’s shadow minister for mental health and social care, said the extra funding – in the first years of a Labour government – would be enough to cap people’s contributions towards their care, but gave no hint as to where that cap would be set.
She also said the extra money would be enough to raise the asset threshold for paying for care – the level of savings and capital which decides how much a person should contribute to their care – but again gave no hint as to where this new threshold would be set.
She said an “independent” group of experts – the latest in a long line of such panels and commissions – would be appointed to advise the party on devising a “sustainable service for the long term”.
Keeley, a member of the shadow cabinet, told the party’s conference in Brighton that the social care crisis was “made in Downing Street”, and that nearly half a million fewer people were receiving publicly-funded social care since the Conservatives came to office in 2010.
She said the crisis was caused by the government cutting billions of pounds from council budgets, and that all ministers had promised was a consultation and a green paper.
Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council, told the conference that the social care system was facing a “grave financial crisis”.
He said the government had only come up with “desperate sticking plaster after desperate sticking plaster” to try to solve the crisis.
And he said the system was “hurtling towards a cliff edge” in 2020, when councils will lose even more of their government funding.
Last October, his council’s director of resources told the Commons communities and local government select committee that, since 2010-11, the number of people receiving council-funded support in Newcastle had fallen from 9,780 to 5,237.
The conference later approved a motion that recognised the “growing public concern over the continuing crisis in social care” and confirmed the party’s commitment to address that crisis.
It also called on a Labour government to introduce “measures that provide adequate funding to enable local authorities to achieve standards of care that are fit for purpose”.
Peter Cooper, the Poole CLP (constituency Labour party) delegate who proposed the motion, had told the conference that he wanted to see a free National Care Service that was funded by taxation, although he accepted that the “composite motion” that would be voted on by the party did not go that far and did not mention a tax-funded system.
He told Disability News Service afterwards that Poole CLP’s original motion had called for a National Care Service that was free at the point of use and funded by general taxation, but that this demand had not appeared in the final version of the motion that was composed of theirs and other social care-themed motions.
But he said he was optimistic that another motion next year would see the call for a tax-funded care service approved by the conference, a policy that he believes has overwhelming backing among party members.