Tory conference: Government side-lines working-age social care… again

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The health and social care secretary has side-lined the support needs of working-age disabled people while announcing new funds for the social care system at this week’s Conservative party conference.

Matt Hancock announced an extra £240 million for local authorities to help ease pressure on the NHS this winter, with the party saying the money would “fund packages of care to prevent older people from going into hospital unnecessarily and getting people home quickly when medically fit to leave”.

Labour described this as “a drop in the ocean” and “tinkering at the edges”, while the Local Government Association welcomed the new money but warned that “short-term bailouts are not the answer” and that adult social care faced a £3.5 billion funding gap by 2025, just to maintain existing levels of support.

Hancock told the conference in Birmingham (pictured) that the money was “to pay for social care packages this winter to support our NHS” and “free up those vital hospital beds”.

And he said he wanted to address the pressures on social care not because he wanted to improve support for disabled and older people but because he wanted “to make the NHS the best health service in the world”.

When he spoke about the need for long-term social care reform, he said this was necessary “so people don’t have to fear the risk of losing everything if for a reason outside their control they end up needing care when they’re old”, again avoiding any mention of working-age disabled people and the importance of independent living.

He added: “Reform of social care is long overdue and we’ll publish a paper later this year setting out the progress we can make to give all people confidence and dignity in old age.”

The prime minister, Theresa May, failed to mention disabled people in her main conference speech, and avoided any mention of social care and its funding crisis.

Last month, Disability News Service revealed that Hancock’s department had quietly dropped the idea of having a separate “parallel programme of work” on working-age social care, which will now be included in the government’s green paper, to be published later this year.

The care minister, Caroline Dinenage, was unable to attend the conference because of illness, and so had to cancel planned appearances at several fringe meetings on social care funding.

But Damian Green, a close political ally of Theresa May and former work and pensions secretary, told one fringe meeting – which again focused on the care needs of older people – that all political parties had played “destructive games” with their attempts to solve the social care funding crisis.

He said: “Our own party talked in 2010 about the ‘death tax’ as a way of stigmatising the Labour government’s attempt to fund social care, and in 2017… the Tory party’s attempt at what was a thoughtful if difficult policy was instantly dubbed the ‘dementia tax’ and proved politically unsaleable.”

He told the event – hosted by the Tory think-tank Bright Blue and Hanover Housing Association – that this had driven governments away from long-term solutions and towards “short-term fixes”.

He said that a solution would only be found on a cross-party basis.

Green suggested a new system, with “different generations paying in different ways”, with those of working-age over 40 paying a national insurance care supplement.

Those over 66 or 67 with significant savings would have the option of making a one-off voluntary payment – probably secured by releasing equity from their home – that would protect them from any future claims on their savings if they needed state-funded care when they were older.

He said this should be funded through “national, rather than local taxation, because otherwise councils are going to be doing nothing except adult social care in 10 years’ time”.

Disability News Service asked about the decision to drop the idea of addressing the support needs of working-age disabled people through a “parallel programme of work”, and why those needs had not been addressed in the fringe event, when about half of adult social care spending was on working-age people.

Green said: “You’re right, it’s actually slightly more than 50 per cent of social care spending is on working-age people.

“You can produce good arguments for trying to do it as a whole or saying actually they are slightly different issues.

“The latest thinking is that this is going to be covered in the green paper as well.

“To the best of my knowledge they have been doing the preparatory work for it.

“I don’t think there is anything sinister in that, I just think they decided to get it all out in one go, to get the full debate about the whole range of social care out at the same time.”

 

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