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Is there a quicker route to resolving the social care funding crisis?

We have heard so much from our politicians over recent years about how they intend to solve the funding crisis in social care. The latest offering comes from John McDonnell shadow chancellor of the Labour party

At the Labour Part Conference in Brighton he pledged to provide free personal care for the elderly costing £8 billion per year. Labour intend to pay the full cost of care to enable people to live in their own homes independently. They will also fund care provided in care homes, but people would be expected to fund their own hotel costs for their accommodation.

The plan according to Mr McDonnell would save people funding their own care on average £10,000 per year.

Labour have said that the cost of the scheme will be raised through general taxation. As we all know the scheme has been available to people in Scotland since the turn of the millennium

The announcement was welcomed by charities with the Alzheimer’s Society saying it has thrown down the gauntlet to the Conservative Party to bring in a similar scheme.

Historical perspective

The latest labour party initiative is just one in a long line of promises by politicians to bring the social care funding crises to an acceptable conclusion. Social care policy has been subject to much muddle, tinkering and the perpetual promise of a fairer funding system – a promise which is never fulfilled. Think of the Green paper which over the past 2 years has yet to see the light of day.

Local government, particularly in England, has had its funding savagely cut since 2010. This has led to deep cuts to adult social care, with about 40% fewer people receiving social care now than in 2009. There have also been severe cuts in other local support services.

Although the 2017 budget saw talk of additional funding for social care for the first time since 2010. Instead of genuine funding reform there has been much talk of the ‘integration’ of health and social care for over 30 years.

The distinction between health and social care was created by the Thatcher reforms of the early 1990s and the term ‘social care’ is now commonplace, however it is rarely found in other countries and it can be more confusing. It may be more useful to think instead about the overall system to support disabled and older people who need on-going support and assistance and to call this Long-Term Care.

An alternative method of funding social care

If you take John McDonnell’s figures of £8 billion per year, as being the cost of providing free social care. Why has it taken so long to find alternative means of funding social care? I have for many years wondered why we continue to spend £17bln per year on The International Development Fund at a time when people in this country may have lost their lives or at least endured a poorer quality of life. At a time of austerity when the general population was being asked to tighten their belts, the overseas development fund has never been subjected to any kind of reform and remains at 7% of GDP £17bln.

I believe the government should have grasped the nettle and recognised the importance of social care funding, rather than gifting rich countries with money on projects that have little long-term benefit and leave administrators of the fund scratching their heads on how to spend the money before the end of the financial year. This would have freed up money and reduced the level of taxation needed to provide free social care for people in England a long time ago. Ensuring they enjoyed the same privileges as the people of Scotland.

Summary

Mr McDonnell’s pledge of free social care comes with a caveat, Labour have to win the next election. It should also be taken in the context of a party conference where there were many giveaways designed to encourage voters, along with a 4-day week and increased minimum wage, both of which will add to the cost of social care. I believe free long term care could be achieved through reform of the International Development Fund and the resulting money saved along with increases in general taxation would allow us to achieve this objective. In addition, it is estimated there would be savings in the NHS of 4.2 million per annum as a reduction of bed space taken up by those who require long term care that could be provided in the community.

Let’s get it done.

Albert Cook Albert Cook BA, MA & Fellow Charted Quality Institute Managing Director Bettal Quality Consultancy

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