A blog entry by Professor Sue Yeandle
With a General Election looming, the Labour Party set out its stall on social care this week at its Party Conference in Brighton. Social care has barely been out of the headlines in recent years, with report after report delineating the increasingly worrying state of social care, especially for England.
Labour’s message is in tune with many of the views set out in recent reports from think tanks IPPR and The King’s Fund and the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee. The party also cites recent headline-grabbing statistics released by key charities: Age UK – 1.4m older people’s needs are unmet; the MS Society – 39% of people with MS pay for their own care; and Carers UK – since 2017, 2.6 million people have quit their jobs to care for a relative or friend needing help. Labour’s ‘vision statement’ is scathing about the legacy a decade of Conservative-led austerity measures has left, during which £7.7 billion was cut from local authority budgets in England.
The party’s ‘case for change’ also focuses on the paid work of care. 335,000 care workers (25% of the total) are on zero hours contracts, and care workers’ pay rates are below those in any comparably challenging job. Labour highlights inadequate training of adult social care workers, despite their role in supporting older and disabled people with complex needs. This is vital and skilled work, Labour asserts, and rebuilding the care workforce will be a ‘key mission’ of its Industrial Strategy.
A National Care Service, Labour argues, would transform not just the circumstances of those who need or provide care, but also how services are developed, organised, provided and paid for. Dismissing Conservative politicians’ funding plans as ‘gimmicky insurance schemes’, Labour also commits, ‘within a Parliament’, to delivering a service free at the point of use for older people England.
Key commitments in Labour's vision document 'Towards the National Care Service' include:
- Free personal care for everyone over 65 who needs it, with, in time, a lifetime cap on its ‘hotel costs’, which would still be chargeable
- A new emphasis on public provision, ending the long march of privately-provided care (where three-quarters of care home places and two-thirds of homecare workers now sit). More care jobs will be in local authorities. In the remaining private market, ‘small-scale’ will dominate.
- More control of care provision, with profits capped, tax compliance enforced, zero hours contracts outlawed and a ‘real living wage’ and travel time paid sector-wide.
- Care workforce development is also promised, through a tax-funded National Education Service, so care staff get high quality training and upskilling ‘throughout their careers’.
Could Labour deliver this ambitious reform?
Many in the sector, at all levels, agree radical change is urgently needed. Some will question the wisdom of shifting to more public sector jobs and relying on general taxation, when the funding solutions others favour include leveraging the housing wealth of the older generation, incentivising care insurance, and accessing the inheritances of the wealthy.
Our Sustainable Care: connecting people and systems research confirms that unmet need, an undervalued care workforce, and providers’ ongoing difficulty in delivering stable, well-staffed and high quality services are critical problems. Our own analysis of the ‘crisis of care’ highlights many of the problems Labour claims its new National Care Service will tackle.
We await the Conservatives’ offer to the electorate on how it will address challenges it acknowledges in social care, albeit without publishing its long-promised Green Paper. Whatever it proposes, it seems certain social care will be a prominent issue in the General Election expected soon, vying with Brexit, the global climate emergency, education and the NHS for a ‘top spot’ in the electorate’s agenda.
Professor Sue Yeandle
Director of CIRCLE