Election 2019

General election 2019: Cross-party solution 'possible' for social care

A health visitor handing a woman a cup of tea Image copyright Getty Images

A cross-party solution to the crisis in social care in England can be found if there is enough "political will", a leading expert has said.

Sir Andrew Dilnot said he was "puzzled" at a lack of progress on the issue, given wide support for more funding and a cap on individual care costs.

The Tory election manifesto pledges £1bn extra for social care in England and to pursue cross-party talks.

Labour, the Lib Dems and the Green Party are also promising more funding.

Demand on the system is increasing, with councils in England receiving 1.9 million new requests for publicly funded care support in 2018-9, up 4% on the year before.

According to NHS Digital, 841,850 people were receiving long-term care in England last year.

The ageing population is expected to increase demand.

Sir Andrew, who led a commission on social care for former Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The striking thing is the consensus the Conservatives say they seek is just about there.

"Labour have said they are in favour of a cap of people's personal care costs. The Liberal Democrats are committed to that and as recently as March 2018 the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said there would be a cap."

He added: "So the consensus is there for increased spending on the means-tested system and a cap [in personal care costs] in place for the population as a whole. So we just need to get on and do it and I am puzzled as to why we are not."

In 2011, Sir Andrew recommended a lifetime cap on personal care costs which, but this has not been adopted by government.

On Sunday, Prime minister Boris Johnson unveiled the Conservative manifesto, ahead of the 12 December general election.

It promises £1bn of extra funding per year for social care in England until 2023-4, as well as searching for a cross-party consensus to bring forward proposals and legislation for long-term reform.

Other parties have also put forward plans:

  • Labour: A lifetime cap on personal contributions to care costs. A new National Care Service for England based on the NHS. Increase in carer's allowance and end to 15-minute care visits
  • Liberal Democrats: £7bn in extra funding for NHS and social care, paid for by extra 1p on income tax. Establish convention to come up with long-term solution, with a care cap a "key starting point".
  • Green Party: Free personal care at home for people aged 65 and over, with annual cash support of £4.5bn a year

Despite ideological and policy differences between the main parties, Sir Andrew said there was plenty of common ground.

He added: "Let's hope that there is enough energy around this now and that there is a real commitment to getting a cross-party consensus. As I say, I think that can be done. It does just require political will."

But Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan said Mr Johnson had been right to hold back on further details on social care plans until there was wider political agreement.

"It is not there in a form to be included in the manifesto," she told Today. "Some health secretaries ago, there seemed to be a consensus but then it fell apart.

"It is such a complex, long-term issue that it is not just a question of having one part of it agreed because there are lots of different moving parts."

Ms Morgan said the prime minister was promising to "provide the leadership to build the cross-party consensus to get this done" and that voters would "absolutely understand that".

In their manifesto, the Lib Dems say they are the "only party with a long-term plan for health and care services".

Labour's promises it will "provide community-based, person-centred support, underpinned by the principles of ethical care and independent living".

Social care is a devolved issue. In Scotland, the SNP has said if it is re-elected in 2021 it would scrap all non-residential social care charges.

Plaid Cymru has said social care in Wales should be free at the point of need and funded from general taxation.