The good news for the care industry is that the sector has probably never been higher in the public consciousness than it is now. Everyone agrees that care is an urgent problem that needs fixing.
But the less good news is that how policy and funding will develop from here is, quite frankly, anyone’s guess.
During the election campaign, the Conservative government put forward some specific proposals on the issue. But their manifesto ideas – which the opposition rapidly summed up as amounting to a ‘dementia tax’ – backfired spectacularly and were arguably one of the factors behind the Tories’ greatly reduced majority in the election, resulting in a hung parliament and the need for a ‘supply and confidence’ deal with the DUP.
With David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, admitting in a radio interview that some policies were likely to be ‘pruned away’, many observers now believe the proposals could be dropped from the Queen’s Speech.
Whatever the precise thinking was behind the proposals, the Government may well have been hoping that attention would fall on the positives – namely that the floor below which no one would have to pay for social care would shoot up from the present £23,250 in capital to £100,000.
But instead, all of the frenzy was focused on including the individual’s home in the financial calculations for care at home.
There are many aspects of the proposals that appear problematic. They would set up a postcode lottery whereby the higher the value of your house, the more you effectively have to pay. Would there actually be a cap and if so at what level? There would also be a host of funding issues. Who is going to pay the care provider during all the years that they are providing the care? The likelihood is that the burden for this would fall on the local authority – but where would they find the money to pay for it? And then, when the individual passes away and the time comes for the authority to recoup its costs, would interest be chargeable and if so at what rate?
Whilst on the campaign trail, Theresa May said that the proposals would be the subject of a consultation but when this will take place (and whether the proposals will have been modified) remains to be seen.
In my view, there is a deeper question that is likely to continue plaguing the social care debate: are debilitating ageing conditions like Alzheimers and dementia illnesses or something different? If they are illnesses, shouldn’t their treatment be free at the point of care? Or are we satisfied as a society that such conditions are simply part of ‘getting older’ and so can be regarded differently?
With a rapidly expanding elderly population, the number of sufferers from these conditions is likely to grow – unless a cure is found. There are some deep social and demographic issues under the social care surface that we need, as a society, to get to grips with and work out long-term solutions to.
In the meantime, the positive for the private care industry – already worth some £14bn in 2015 according to Laing Buisson – is that it seems politically inevitable that more funding will be channelled into social care. Demand for care services, both residential and at home, is only set to increase too. Despite the pressures that the Living Wage and other costs are placing on the sector, the potential is there for the economics to become more favourable.
But the industry needs clarity about the future direction of travel. Unfortunately, that does not seem like coming any time soon.
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