Writing exclusively for PoliticsHome, Conservative MP Chris Skidmore welcomes today's White Paper on social care reform, saying "the price of inaction has been high".
In 1997, as a Labour government swept into power on a landslide, with a mandate for change, ambitious pledges and a booming economy, Tony Blair stood on the podium at Labour Party Conference and pledged that people wouldn’t have to sell their home to pay for care, saying: ‘I don’t want them [children] brought up in a country where the only way pensioners can get long-term care is by selling their home’.
Thirteen years later, as Gordon Brown tendered his resignation to the Queen, the social care system remained unreformed – with Labour’s last contribution to the debate a wildly impractical and uncosted National Care Service that even the former Labour minister Lord Warner cricitized, stating that ‘Promising elderly and vulnerable people and their families something which is not affordable or deliverable any time soon is a rather cruel deception and I certainly don't want to have any part of it’.
The price of inaction has been high. While Social Care remained in the long grass for thirteen years, nearly half a million people were forced to sell their homes to pay for care- rising by 20% to 24,000 a year under the Labour Government.
Today's White Paper recognises that we cannot go down the same road of abandonning social care reform for another generation to continue to pick up the tab. Like tackling the deficit, we must act now to prevent future generations from being saddled with the costs of care. Finally, it seems as if all three parties are ready to act, recognising that we all need to be on the same square. Increased life expectancy will mean more people eventually needing care and support. This in turn means that funds will need to be found. The Personal Social Services Research Unit’s modelling of future expenditure for Dilnot predicts that by 2030, the total annual spending on long-term care for people will have risen from £20.6 billion to £44.8 billion, of which £26.3 billion is state funding. This would constitute a rise in spending in services as a % of GDP from 1.63% to 2.31%.
This is not a problem unique to the UK: Germany and Japan have both recently taken radical action to reform their care system- conscious of the fact that an aging population and rising costs cannot be ignored indefinitely. However, what makes finding a solution to the ever-growing problem is the fact that as a rule, people simply do not understand the system, or that social care and the associated costs of getting older is not free, nor ever has been. This is a point made in the Dilnot Report that recommended to 'encourage people to plan ahead for their later life we recommend that the Government invest in an awareness campaign' and that 'the Government should develop a major new information and advice strategy to help when care needs arise'.
The Government is now working to establish how best to implement Dilnot's recommendation that there should be a cap on care costs. This is in addition to providing more money for social care, £7.2 billion over the course of the parliament, with an additional £300million announced today, as well as an extra £200million for specialist care housing, is testament to the government's determination to grasp the nettle of social care reform. But above all, implementing Dilnot can only be part of the overall solution. Above all, we must seek to establish how people can save to an accepted level- something that clearly isn't happening. In a 2008 survey, 3% of people claimed that they were already saving for their long-term care, 32% that they had plans to do so, and 64% that they had not. However, of people aged 16-35, 73% of people claimed that they had no plans to pay for their future social care. There is already a serious gap in what we save now, and the projected costs of the social care system down the line. The Dilnot Commission’s report points out that half of people aged 65 and over can expect care costs of up to £20,000, one in ten can expect costs of over £100,000, but that there is no way of predicting who will end up needing what. The only answer, therefore, lies in risk pooling - as with insurance - yet the financial products that one might hope to use do not effectively exist.
To develop a cap on care costs will mean working with the insurance market to establish what works. It would be fruitless to make social care reform a debate solely on Dilnot, when Dilnot's own proposals will only work with the establishment of a savings market- an issue I have discussed in a Free Enterprise Group report issued this week which calls for tax-free Care ISAs. The White Paper does more for recognising the need to deal with the problem of care than at any time since 1948: for the first time, legal rights will be given to those who need care and their carers.
Today's White Paper marks the beginning of a journey; it is certainly not the limit of this government's ambition on social care. But for the first time, the issue of social care is finally being led out of the long grass.
Chris Skidmore MP is a Member of the Health Select Committee