A permanent solution to the social care funding crisis may finally be within reach, with growing calls for proposals that would include free social care, according to a former adviser to the Tory health and social care secretary.
Richard Sloggett, who was advising Matt Hancock on policy until as recently as August, was speaking at a fringe meeting at the Tory party conference in Manchester this week.
His comments, and the apparent mood of the packed meeting, suggest growing momentum behind a solution that offers free social care, funded by national taxation, even if it does not go as far as a legal right to independent living and the National Independent Living and Support Service proposed by the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance and Disabled People Against Cuts.
The optimism of those at the meeting came despite the failure of ministers to say anything substantial about social care during the conference.
Prime minister Boris Johnson said yesterday (Wednesday) that the Conservatives would “solve the problem of social care and end the injustice that means people have to sell their home to pay for their old age”, but he offered no suggestion for how this would be done, and failed to mention the support needs of working-age disabled people.
Hancock, in his main speech to conference, said only that the government had delivered the “biggest increase in social care funding in a decade” this year, while saying nothing about his much-delayed green paper on adult social care.
And chancellor Sajid Javid said only that the latest round of spending decisions by the Treasury last month had included a “large down-payment on social care”.
Social care minister Caroline Dinenage was unable to attend the conference because of ministerial engagements in Westminster.
She told Disability News Service by email that she had intended to attend on Monday and Tuesday but had deliberately not confirmed any speaking engagements because “of the current uncertainly in Parliament”.
She had needed to be in Westminster to respond to debates, including one on social care funding on Tuesday.
She said: “I wouldn’t read anything into the absence of social care from conference speeches.
“The prime minister, in his inaugural speech from the steps of Downing Street, said, ‘The government will set our plans to fix the crisis in social care once and for all.’
“Our commitment to this is undiminished.”
In her speech on Tuesday, which mainly focused on older people, she offered no suggestion that the green paper was imminent, instead repeating the chancellor’s line that the funding announced in the latest spending round was “a down payment on much more fundamental reforms to social care that we need to introduce”.
Sloggett (pictured, second from right) was speaking at a fringe meeting hosted by the centre-right thinktank Policy Exchange, which has publicly called for social care to be free at the point of use, just like the NHS, and was attended by about 150 people who appeared strongly in favour of such a solution.
He told the meeting he was “really optimistic” about the issue and said he believed that politicians were moving towards a “state-backed solution of some ilk”.
He pointed to two recent reports he believed were “very pertinent” – a report by the House of Lords economic affairs committee and the Policy Exchange report – which have both advocated (mostly) free social care.
He said the Lords report was “a massive, massive step forward” and that he was “more optimistic than I perhaps was”.
And he told the meeting later: “We have an unbelievable sense of momentum on this agenda to actually do something.”
Warwick Lightfoot (pictured, left), a former adviser to three Tory chancellors in the late 1980s and early 1990s, who led Policy Exchange’s research on social care funding, said providing free social care, paid for from national taxation, was a cost that was “possible to manage” and was the “logical way of resolving” the current “misalignment” between free NHS care and means-tested charging for social care.
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