Ministers were blasted today for unveiling an “incredibly thin” 10-year “vision” for social care which even they admitted “will not solve all of the problems”.
Twenty-eight months after Boris Johnson claimed he had “a clear plan prepared” which “will fix the crisis in social care once and for all”, Care Minister Gillian Keegan published a 103-page White Paper which she conceded was “a first step” and “just a start”.
Writing in the foreword to the long-awaited document, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “The proposals outlined will not solve all of the problems.”
The White Paper was meant to flesh out the details of a plan to hike National Insurance by 1.25%, raising £12bn a year. Part of the money is funding a new care asset cap and floor.
Plans include a new repairs service to help older and disabled people live independently for longer in their own homes, with cash for stairlifts and wet rooms.
The White Paper announced £150m over three years for technology such as noise sensors to alert care staff to medical emergencies and falls.
And £500m will go to staff training, progression and qualifications over three years, while £300m will go to new specialist housing.
Post-Brexit immigration changes that have blocked many EU carers moving to work in the UK could also be reviewed, amid a huge staffing shortage.
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The plan highlights that the Migration Advisory Committee will report back in Spring 2022, adding: “We will consider the outcomes of this review and whether further action is necessary to mitigate against any impact on recruitment into the sector.”
But there was fury as a string of issues were kicked down the road to future consultations and workshops.
Plans on how to better integrate social care and the NHS have been shelved until next year at the earliest, in a second White Paper.
Critics also said there was no help for boosting carers’ pay – and little to tackle the recruitment crisis which has left an estimated shortage of 100,000 carers.
Shadow Care Minister Liz Kendall told the Commons: “Really, is that it?
“Ministers have utterly failed to deal with the immediate pressures facing social care as we head into one of the most difficult winters on record and they have failed to set out the long-term vision and more fundamental reforms we need to deliver a care system fit for the future.”
Conservative former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt described the social care plan as “three steps forward, two steps back” and warned it did not solve hospital bed blocking.
The document re-announced past rises to the minimum wage and carers’ allowance, and a pledge to give unpaid carers five days’ unpaid leave per year.
It promised £25m to “kickstart” changes for unpaid carers but a “series of workshops” on the subject will only be held next year.
A “national website” by Christmas will give information on funding changes.
But further reforms on social care charging will only be announced “shortly”.
The plan also admitted the £500m for workforce is “just the beginning” and ministers and care firms will have to “take forward these policies, now and in the future”.
And it said “over the next 10 years we want to start working” to encourage Brits to think ahead about their own care.
GMB union officer Rachel Harrison said: “This is like groundhog day. Care workers have been waiting for the Government’s plan for years – since before the last election.
“Now they’re being told they have to wait even longer for any substantial reforms.”
Lib Dem MP Daisy Cooper said the 103-page plan was “incredibly thin” adding: “The government is trying to fiddle with the lightbulbs on the Titanic as it is starting to go down”.
Care England chief executive Martin Green said the document was “visionary” but there were “barriers standing in the way of delivering this vision”.
David Fothergill of the Local Government Association added the “aspirations” had to meet the “reality” that funding to councils is “insufficient to meet current and rising demand”.
Francis Elliott of Engage Britain warned the changes would need “real investment” and it was “unclear when or even whether” care will get more cash from the new Levy.
The Alzheimer’s Society said it was “great to see detailed plans” but added: “They will fail if the Government tries to fund social care on the cheap through stingy funding settlements”
Phillip Anderson of the MS Society said: “The Government needs to go further if they want to truly fix social care. That requires an urgent injection of cash.”
Age UK charity director Carolien Abrahams said: “Meanwhile, Rome burns. Chronic workforce shortages are the biggest concern and seem to be getting worse.”
Labour backbencher Helen Hayes added: “It has been two-and-a-half years since the Prime Minister stood on the steps of Downing Street and promised to fix the social care crisis once and for all with a clear plan we have prepared.
“I think we can all be forgiven for asking what on earth the Government has been during that two-and-a-half years.” Charities welcomed some of the proposals – but accused the Tories of failing to go far enough.”
The plan highlights £570m a year for three years for Disabled Facilities Grants, mainly used for home adaptations like stairlifts, wet rooms and grab rails.
The means test for DFGs could be changed because it is “complex and can be difficult to navigate”, with a public consultation due to start next year.
It will also focus more on “affordable” digital technologies like personal alarms, smart devices and noise sensors.
There will be a £30m ‘Models of Care Programme’ to “support local systems to build the culture and capability to embed into the mainstream innovative models of care”.
And the priority of the £150m digital technology fund will be to prevent falls, which are thought to have increased as people’s muscles waste during Covid.
“The use of technology such as acoustic monitoring could reduce falls by 20% or more and avoid admissions to hospital,” the plan says.
The plan pledges to have digitised care records in at least 80% of care providers by March 2024, and deliver fibre broadband upgrades to care homes.
Mr Javid said: “This 10-year vision clearly lays out how we will make the system fairer and better to serve everyone, from the millions of people receiving care to those who are providing it.
“We are investing in our country’s future – boosting support to help people live at home with their families for longer and ensuring that health and care work hand in hand so people get the help they need.”
But the document admitted social care spending has “inevitably taken some of the strain” of council funding pressures.
After a decade of Tory funding cuts to councils, it added: “Uncertainty over future funding stifles provider investment and, along with low fee rates, can result in poor workforce conditions, inadequate quality care, market fragility and pose a threat to continuity of care.”
It went on: “Much of the workforce suffers from poor mental health and burnout, especially following the huge sacrifices they made during the COVID-19 pandemic.”