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Health Minister Dismisses Jeremy Hunt Criticism Of Care Plans As "Part Of The Job"

3 min read

Exclusive: Care minister Gillian Keegan has dismissed former health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s claim that the government’s new care plan is “three steps forward and two steps back”. 

Speaking to The House after delivering the government’s much awaited adult social care white paper, People at the heart of care, in the House of Commons today, Keegan brushed off Hunt's criticism, saying it is “part of the job” as care minister that people are always “asking for more money”. 

In a statement this afternoon, Hunt, who currently chairs the Commons Health and Social Care Committee, said he was “disappointed” in the government’s plan, which fell far short of the investment needed in England’s creaking social care system. While Hunt, who was health secretary between 2010 and 2019, gave the government credit for “grasping the nettle of the issue”, it hadn’t acknowledged “the scale of extra resource needed… based on the crisis the sector faces right now”, he said.

Responding to Hunt’s comments, Keegan said: “I don’t see that that's the case actually. The most important [response] really is the response of the care sector, which has been by and large quite positive.” Reiterating that the paper was just a “start of a journey”, Keegan added “you can't really put every aspiration [for care integration and improvement] on this reform white paper.” 

Much of the sector has welcomed the direction of travel of today’s white paper, which set out an overarching 10-year-vision for the sector and specific commitments around supported housing, the advancement of technology in providing care, and career progression for careers, among other policies. 

However, it has also been widely criticised for a lack of new money for the sector and failing to address current crises in recruitment and retention of care staff. Caroline Abrahams, director of Age UK described the plans as “an underpowered saloon car at best” when a “formula one vehicle” was needed. 

Keegan told The House that while additional funding for local authorities to help pay for care through the Local Government Settlement had yet to be agreed, she “very much doubted” it would reach the annual £7bn increase that the Health and Social Care Select Committee and others have asked for as a “starting point for social care funding”. In October’s Spending Review, the government committed just £5.4bn spread over the next three years – £3.6bn to cover the costs for changes in how individuals pay for their care, and £1.7bn for wider system reform. 

“[Local government settlements] are in negotiation,” Keegan said, describing the £5.4bn three-year settlement for social care as “quite good”. “I've been in business for 30 years before being an MP, [if] there's one thing I've now realised as a minister is that I don't think I will ever be in a meeting ever again where somebody isn't asking for more money. It's just the nature of the job.”

The full interview will appear in The House magazine out on 13 December.

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