In 2019, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, promised the nation that his Government would finally “fix the crisis in social care once and for all.” Yet two years down the line, we are clearly no closer to solving the problem.
This much has become clear after the Queen’s Speech today (11th May 2021) failed to address the social care crisis. The topic was tentatively touched on, with the Queen stating: “Proposals on social care reform will be brought forward.” But no further details were discussed and no specific bill was mentioned to tackle the issue.
The government’s failure to address the problem and set out a clear plan to fix the system has caused anger and frustration across the sector. The Prime Minister has faced criticism from local government leaders on this lack of detail. The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, highlights that it has been 657 days since Boris Johnson made his pledge, and says it is “unforgivable that there is no long-term plan to fix social care.”
Fear that the government are simply kicking the problem further down the road
The Prime Minister has promised the government will bring forward proposals on adult social care later in the year, "so that every person receives the dignity and security they deserve in old age”. However, there is a fear across the sector that the government are simply kicking the problem further down the road.
This fear is now particularly prominent considering the NHS is faced with critical workforce shortages and a huge backlog of unmet healthcare needs as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. For these reasons, among others, the sector urgently requires funding in order to prevent long waiting times for care.
Danny Mortimer, who is chair of the Health for Care Coalition, said: “It is disappointing and disheartening that the Government has once again kicked the issue into the long grass, which means the very real risk that no real progress will now be made on this issue. Social care reform is desperately required, and we need a timetable for reform now, not at some distant future point, and this must be coupled with significant long-term investment.
“The NHS and social care are sister services – if one suffers so does the other – and the Covid-19 pandemic has shown how fragile and in dire need of reform England’s social care system has become. A well-funded and good quality social care sector is vital to a healthy nation and a strong and well-performing NHS; reform must no longer be delayed.”
“A healthy population is a key asset for long-term economic recovery”
The pandemic has exacerbated health inequalities across the nation, with vulnerable people being affected disproportionately by Covid-19. In light of this, a social care reform is more important than ever, in order to support the most vulnerable in our society.
Dr Jennifer Dixon, Chief Executive of the Health Foundation, says the Queen’s speech served as welcome recognition by the government that Covid-19 will cast a long shadow over the NHS. However, the scale and depth of impact on the NHS was not recognised.
She said: “It is a huge disappointment that the government still has no plan for social care, letting down the many people needing social care support, their families, social care staff and providers. The Treasury’s objection that reform is unaffordable does not stand up to scrutiny, with pragmatic and workable solutions on the table that would cost just 2% of what we currently pay for the NHS. Given the weight of the case for change, the question is not whether social care reform is affordable but whether the government can afford to delay progress on an issue that could become its Achilles heel.
“The government’s stated desire to address inequalities through the levelling up agenda is welcome but plans for skills, jobs and infrastructure need to be delivered in ways that will improve the health and well-being of people across the UK. More than a third of 25-to 64-year-olds in the areas of England with the lowest healthy life expectancy are unable to work because of illness or disability. A lot of ill health is avoidable, and a healthy population is a key asset for long-term economic recovery. Direct investment in early years and family support, education, employment, housing and communities is crucial to improve health and ‘level up’ opportunity and prosperity for people living in all parts of the country.”
The Prime Minister has said the general public have every right to hold the government to account, and they will "get on with protecting the health of the nation".