Boris Johnson has refused to retreat from his remarks blaming care homes for the spread of Covid-19 this week. And although this forms part of a blame strategy, as the government comes under increasing scrutiny for its weak pandemic response, it could also signal an intention to reform social care.
After all, the Prime Minister made the valid point that “we need to think about how we organise our social care package better, and how we make sure we look after people better who are in social care”. (Conveniently omitting that this was his job since he announced he had a “clear plan” for social care in his first speech as PM last July, then failed to put such a plan in his manifesto.)
As the coronavirus has further exposed our unsustainable social care system, an exclusive survey for the New Statesman by polling company Redfield & Wilton Strategies shows that only 12 per cent of people in the UK are significantly aware of how social care is funded and organised.
Nearly a quarter of the population have no idea at all how it works (23 per cent), while 29 per cent say they are somewhat aware, and 36 per cent are moderately aware.
It’s usually not until one has the misfortune to seek care (as opposed to medical treatment on the NHS) that you discover a system struggling to meet the demands of both an ageing population and a growing working-age population in need of long-term care.
At the moment, social care services are primarily the responsibility of cash-strapped local authorities. Unlike the NHS, 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 you cannot have all your help funded by the council, then you pay yourself or rely on family and friends for your care. Carers can apply for the Carer’s Allowance benefit.
Half the respondents in the Redfield & Wilton polling believe social care should be free at the point of use like the NHS, regardless of whether one has paid into the system, and 36 per cent think it should be like a pension where you pay in and draw from it when necessary.
These are some of the choices any government looking to reform social care will face. A report by the House of Lords economics committee last June, which took evidence on the options, concluded that social care funding needs an immediate £8bn cash injection to restore funding to 2009/10 levels (pre-austerity), and then universal free personal care over the ensuing five years at the cost of £7bn a year – all largely funded through general taxation.
This solution will rely on a government willing to ditch its pledge not to raise taxes – something the Chancellor Rishi Sunak has already hinted that he will have to do.