Where is the plan for social care?

Despite promising to ‘fix’ social care, government has kicked the can down the road again

Despite promising to fix’ social care, it looks like the government has kicked the can down the road again. In Tuesday’s Queens Speech, social care was only given a cursory mention, and government has not tabled a specific bill for reform. Just a single line — Proposals on reforms to social care will be brought forward.”

The system has needed root and branch reform since long before Covid-19 arrived on the scene, but the pandemic has made things worse. This government prioritised protecting the NHS – but left the social care sector in the cold with catastrophic consequences. Death rates in care homes alone – which is only one part of the care system – were extraordinarily high. Over 20,000 people died in care homes during the first wave with Covid-19 as the cause or contributory factor, and over 21,000 in the second wave.

Reforming social care should be right at the top of our priority list as we emerge from the pandemic and a universal care service — where quality support is available to everyone who needs it, regardless of their ability to pay – is the only way to go.

The sticking point getting in the way of the government doing anything about social care at all seems to be the cost, with reports that the Treasury is vetoing proposals on this basis. But spending on care is not just a cost, as the Local Government Association correctly argue it’s an investment in people’. Care is essential social infrastructure upon which all our lives – and the wider economy — depends. If we were to spend on a better care system, we would see return later down the line.

Even in the shorter term, investing in a better care system could drive employment. Care is already a major economic sector, employing over 1.5 million people. The Women’s Budget Group have shown that over 1.5 million more jobs would be created if the UK invested 2% of GDP in the care sector. Investment in construction, the traditional focus of infrastructure investment and the typical go-to growth catalyst, would create half as many jobs for the same cost.

Investment in care could expand the amount of people employed in the care sector, and free up unpaid carers to take up employment opportunities if they chose to. If the new social care system also supported disabled adults to participate in social and economic life, then it could also enable them to take up employment if they wished to. This increase in employment would have positive ramifications for tax receipts, which could offset some of the initial cost of the investment. If we were to accompany investment with reform to the structure of care services away from markets, competition and private ownership, we also could ensure that both the quality of care and the quality of care jobs markedly improves.

Joe Biden’s administration in US have recognised the potential of care and has made a significant investment in care work. In their infrastructure plan, intended to boost jobs and aid recovery from Covid-19, the government has included a $400bn investment to expand access to home and community-based services for seniors and people with disabilities.

If Biden can do something so soon, why haven’t this government done anything after so long? And why are they continuing to delay this vital investment?

Image: Andrew Parsons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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