How are the main parties promising to end the social care crisis?

Date Posted: Thursday 5th December 2019

#GE2019WomenandGirlsElectionSocial Care

How many times in the last year have we heard the sentence ‘social care is in crisis’? Compare that with how many times we’ve heard politicians talking about social care in the weeks since the election has been announced. Despite being one of the biggest challenges facing British society with knock on effects from Brexit and for the NHS, social care has hardly been mentioned.

There are 1.4 million over the age of 65 in the UK with unmet care needs including elderly, vulnerable and disabled people. The majority of these people are women and so are 80% of care workers. Two thirds of unpaid carers are women and when women leave the paid workplace to care, they lose out on earnings so social care also closely interacts with the gender pay gap. Social care has been historically underfunded by successive governments; we desperately need a new social care system to support vulnerable people and achieve gender equality.

So, what are the parties promising on social care? Previous attempts to find funding solutions for social care have failed as one party has criticised another for ‘death tax’ or ‘dementia tax’. So we welcome the commitment in manifestos to work cross party on long term solutions to the care crisis.

The Labour party manifesto promises to build a National Care Service for England funded from increased taxes on higher earners. This is a campaign win for the Women’s Budget Group who have long called for a NCS to create jobs, lift the burden from women and care for the vulnerable.

Following in Scotland’s footsteps taken in 2002, Labour will introduce free personal care for those aged over 65 years, with the intention of extending this to all working age adults. There will be a lifetime cap on personal contributions to care costs and their reforms will double the number receiving publicly funded care ‘packages’.

Labour’s pledge to end zero hour contracts will also significantly improve carers’ lives – currently half of all domiciliary care workers, 80% of whom are women, are on precarious zero hour contracts. Care workers will have the right to access to training but in contrast to their plans for health workers and childcare workers there is little about increasing the level of training for social care workers, only half of whom have at most a level 2 qualification. Unpaid carers will also see an increase to their Carer’s allowance benefit to the level of job seekers allowance.

The National Care Service will rely more heavily on in-house provision and will not award contracts to organisations who  neither pay their fair share of taxes nor meet standards of transparency, compliance and profit capping. In-sourcing public services will keep public spending circulating in the local economy and provide stable employment for women. It will also keep care services closer to home which is important with respect to local  accountability  and proximity to families and friends. Labour promise to welcome  workers from the EU and regulate wages to ensure they do not undercut wages in general.

The Liberal Democrat manifesto promises to immediately generate £7billion from an increase of 1p in the basic, higher and additional rates of income tax. In order to fund social care in the longer term they would develop a dedicated  progressive Health and Care tax. The Liberal Democrats would also introduce a cap on the cost of care, similar to that contained in the 2014 Care Act. There would be free end-of-life care at home or in a hospice Funding cuts on public health services would be restored.

There would be a Professional Body for Care Workers to promote clear career pathways with ongoing training and development and improved pay structures. The immediate aim would be to ensure 70% of care workers would have an NVQ level 2 qualification or equivalent. All care home managers would have to have relevant qualifications and be subject to professional regulation. They would have an ethical recruitment policy to attract staff back from the EU and from elsewhere in the world. Unpaid carers would be eligible to claim Carers allowance when earning up to £150/wk and for caring for less than the current 35hours/week.. They would be entitled to regular respite breaks and  free access to leisure centres.

The Conservative manifesto gives little detail about how it will ‘fix social care’, except to state no-one needing social care will have to sell their house to pay for it. Meanwhile, they promise to add £1billion /year to the social care budget for the next 5 years and £74 million over 3 years for ‘additional capacity in community care settings for those with learning disabilities and autism.’ Hospices will get £25million to support end of life care for 200,000 people.  Unpaid carers in employment will be entitled to one week’s paid leave.

Care workers are included among the lower skilled workers whose numbers coming from abroad the Conservatives are committed to drastically reduce. There is nothing in the manifesto about investing in the training of care workers or how they will reduce the current 100,000 vacancies in the care workforce. In contrast there will be a special NHS visa system for trained and qualified, doctors, nurses and other health workers. Migrants will have to wait five year before being able to claim benefits and use the NHS-except in an emergency.

Unlike the NHS, social care doesn’t score high on issues concerning voters at the general election. But most of us are likely to either need care ourselves or have to provide it at some stage in our lives. And when people don’t have the care they need, they may end up in a hospital bed so solving social care is critical not only in itself but to address the overstretched NHS. A social care system that recognises the needs of all people is integral to building a gender equal economy.