Conservative manifesto commitment on social care would be a vote winner
The Conservatives may use their manifesto to pledge the implementation of a care cap in the next parliament, says Dods Monitoring Consultant, Daniel Laing.
As the general election approaches, social care will be seen as one of a number of key battlegrounds as campaigners take to the streets. The Prime Minister has already promised to transform the “flawed” mental health system and with social care considered a system which has itself reached “tipping point” might the Conservatives look to include this within their upcoming manifesto as part of the same policy agenda.
While the 2015 general election saw the two major parties fighting to demonstrate which was financially backing the NHS, 2017 should see social care conversations sit hand in glove with those the inevitable debates on increased NHS funding. Indeed, a large section of the House of Lords Committee report on the Long-Term Sustainability of the NHS report focused on the pressures the social care system and a former Liberal Democrat health minister gathered cross party support calling for a health and social care commission.
It goes without saying the argument that social care and an ageing population requires action is not a new one. Undeniably, there has been a broad consensus for several years that social care funding requires a fix and the Government have promised to address this. The most recent version of the debate has the Government point to a short term fix through the Better Care Fund and allowing councils to raise the social care precept while addressing long term funding through the announced social care green paper in the March 2017 Spring Budget.
It is almost certain the Conservative manifesto will highlight both to demonstrate the next steps in the Government’s thinking on the long-term funding of the sector. However, detractors would point out that this represents a step back. The deferred aspects of the Care Act 2014 which were legislated for following the Caring for our future: reforming care and support white paper and Dilnot report might be seen as evidence that the Government have kicked the issue into the long grass.
Could a version of this already legislated for policy be the readymade vote winner the Government are looking for on social care? Recent rumblings that the manifesto could include implementing a care cap and other work coming out of the Cabinet Review team on social care seem to indicate this. While it could be argued the Conservatives do not need to promise more on social care to win an election, a manifesto commitment would prove both a vote winner and provide valuable ammunition for the debates which would certainly occur in a new parliament and beyond, should they win.
However, the question does remain whether a care cap manifesto commitment would be enough for the sector. Labour will point to inadequate responses to Health Select Committee, Community and Local Government Committee and Public Accounts Committee reports on social care over the last Parliament and the fact local authorities had been unable to fulfil obligations under the Care Act due to pressures. Furthermore, there are additional pressure on the social care system from increased costs associated with the national living wage, Brexit related workforce challenges and the Carers Strategy to support unpaid carers yet to materialise.
Further to this, there is growing criticism from the Opposition that the Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STP) are more focused on sustainability and cost cutting, pointing to hospital closures, than they are on the transformational aspects of integrating health and social care.
Nevertheless, the lure of a social care commitment to sit alongside the mental health pledges might be just what the Government is looking for right now with Brexit looming on the horizon and NHS deficits still a challenge. Whatever the two major parties promise, the debate around the future of the social care system will certainly continue come June.
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