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The Conservatives treat social care as an afterthought

A strong care system gives people the freedom to live as independently as possible, for as long as possible.

By Daisy Cooper

The Conservatives promised to “fix” the crisis in social care once and for all. They promised that no one would have to sell their house to pay for care, and that they would not raise taxes to do it. They have broken all these promises, and our social care system is still on its knees.

Half a million people in England are waiting for social care: older and disabled people left with their safety, independence and dignity at risk, and many more stranded in hospital beds despite being well enough to leave, if only there was the domiciliary care or care home beds available.

The Liberal Democrats believe that social care is vitally important in its own right. It gives individuals the freedom to live their lives as they choose, as independently as possible, for as long as possible. But there’s no way of getting away from the fact that you can’t fix the NHS without fixing social care too. For too long, the Conservatives have treated social care as nothing more than an afterthought.

Take January 2023. It was an NHS winter crisis like no other. We saw reports of people dying in the back of ambulances and suffering the indignity of corridor care. For the first time ever, some of us wondered whether an ambulance would even turn up if we called for one. The government scrambled and stumped up millions to buy care beds, to quickly remove those well enough not to be in hospital.

But this mad scramble was a false economy. By discharging patients into care homes, rather than into their own homes with domiciliary care, it was more expensive for the taxpayer. What’s more, because older people can quickly lose mobility in settings other than their own homes, experts warned that this would be bad for patient outcomes too.

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This crisis should not have come as a surprise to the Conservatives. They have had years to tackle it and have done next to nothing. Reforms have been delayed again and again under Rishi Sunak, and even if he brought them forward tomorrow they would not come close to solving this crisis. The Conservatives have had their chance to reform social care – and they have failed.

Reforming social care is one of the UK’s biggest challenges, and it cannot wait any longer. Ultimately, the only way to really solve this mess is to forge a long-term cross-party consensus. But parties also need their own plans. That’s why we Liberal Democrats have set out our bold and ambitious plans to deliver free personal care.

Under our plan no one, whether in a care home or their own home, would have to pay for day-to-day care. Needs such as help washing, taking medication and getting dressed would be covered in full. This would free everyone from the fear of catastrophic essential care costs; it would end the need to sell your home or possessions to pay for essential care; and it makes the whole system much fairer than it is today. Families would no longer be hit with care costs they cannot afford, as they are right now.

We’d also fill the thousands of vacancies by introducing a carers’ minimum wage set at £2 higher than the current minimum and by setting up a Royal College of Care Workers so their voice is heard nationally. It’s time carers were recognised and valued for their skill and hard work. A properly staffed workforce would transform social care.

These plans come with a price tag – and we’ll set out our spending plans in our manifesto – but the cost of inaction is far higher. Political parties can no longer kick the can down the road. The time to tackle this crisis is now.

This article first appeared in a Spotlight print report on Healthcare, published on 17 May 2024. Read it in full here.

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