Exclusive: New polling suggests Boris Johnson neglects social care at his peril

Nearly 80 per cent of voters think social care should be funded differently, with more than half saying they would pay more tax towards it.

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In his first speech as Prime Minister on 24 July 2019, standing outside No 10, Boris Johnson made a promise to the public:

“I am announcing now – on the steps of Downing Street – that we will fix the crisis in social care once and for all with a clear plan we have prepared.”

One general election manifesto and three Queen’s Speeches later – all promising to reform social care – the policy still hasn’t appeared. While government business has been thrown off course by Covid-19, the pandemic itself exposed more than ever the urgent need for a better funded and structured social care system.

Some 79 per cent of voters want a completely different funding system for social care, according to exclusive polling for the New Statesman by Redfield & Wilton Strategies conducted across Britain on 19 May 2021.

Currently, funding social care is primarily the responsibility of the individual and their family, and cash-strapped local authorities. Unlike with NHS healthcare provision, care users may have to contribute to the cost of their care (depending on eligibility criteria and financial assessments), and services are generally contracted out to external care providers, which can be private companies, local organisations and charities.

If an individual cannot have their care funded by the council, then they must pay themselves or rely on family and friends. Carers can apply for the Carer’s Allowance benefit.

Nearly half of Britons (47 per cent) believe social care should be free at the point of use, as with the NHS. The second most popular funding model is also a complete departure from the current system: 32 per cent of respondents said it should work like a pension. Just 7 per cent believe individuals should pay as and when they need care without state provision, while 15 per cent don’t know.

Some 40 per cent of people who voted Tory in 2019 said social care should be free at the point of use, and 42 per cent think it should work like a pension.

Of all respondents who said social care should be funded like the NHS, 53 per cent would personally pay more tax to fund it. Around 39 per cent of these voters said they would be personally willing to pay 1-5 per cent more in taxes, while 14 per cent would pay 5-10 per cent more. Nineteen per cent would be unwilling to pay more tax themselves but think wealthier people should; 20 per cent think social care should be funded by redirecting government spending from other areas; and 7 per cent don’t know.

Of Conservative respondents who said social care should be funded like the NHS, a majority of 51 per cent would personally pay more tax to fund it: 42 per cent of this group would personally pay 1-5 per cent more, and 9 per cent would pay 5-10 per cent more.

Respondents also, understandably, expressed a great deal of uncertainty regarding future care. More than a quarter of people are “not at all confident” that someone will be able to care for them when they are older (26 per cent, compared with 28 per cent who are somewhat confident, 25 per cent who are confident, and 21 per cent who don’t know). 

These polling results show a majority of Brits are unsatisfied with the current social care system, and would like to see it reformed. The survey also suggests an uncertainty and lack of confidence among the public about the quality of their future care.

So far, the government appears to have decided that reforming social care would be risky in terms of public opinion. But as more and more voters encounter the unfair system, it is likely to become a political issue that cannot be avoided.

Anoosh Chakelian is the New Statesman’s Britain editor.

She co-hosts the New Statesman podcast, discussing the latest in UK politics.

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