The brief stint away from the political spotlight which the sector enjoyed in April was to be short-lived. With May came the marquee moment for Government policy as Her Majesty the Queen spoke from the House of Lords to outline the Government’s legislative plans for the next Parliament.
The big news for the sector from the Queen’s Speech was the announcement that a “draft bill will be published to modernise adult care and support in England.” It is perhaps somewhat unsurprising that this was included given the media attention on the sector and the much delayed promise of a Social Care White Paper.
The original commitment for a White Paper on Social Care was spring 2012, with a Bill scheduled for autumn, however, this deadline has been repeatedly pushed back. The fact that only a draft bill is now to be published is indicative that the Government views these reforms as a potential political pothole.
A large element of this reluctance is due to the scale of costs which reform will incur as the Government continues to keep its focus on austerity. Last month saw these efforts renewed as the Department of Work and Pensions outlined plans to dramatically reform the disability benefit system. The impact assessment released by the Department highlighted that payments will be cut by £2.24 billion which could lead to around half a million fewer claimants.
These reforms are bound to attract further media attention as the Government undertakes the next round of its welfare reform programme. The Disability Living Allowance (DLA) will be replaced by the Personal Independent Payment (Pip) which is to be defined in a much more rigid manner in a bid to combat the abuses of the current system. Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, stated in an interview with the Daily Telegraph:
“We are creating a new benefit, because the last benefit grew by something like 30 per cent in the past few years… It’s been rising well ahead of any other gauge you might make about illness, sickness, disability or for that matter, general trends in society.”
In other news, as the European Congress on Obesity took place this month, the subject of the UK’s weight problem was never far from debate. The National Heart Forum, speaking at the event, outlined that by 2030 nearly half of the UK’s male population will be obese, placing a staggering cost of £320bn on the NHS in the next 30 years.
The Department of Health (DH) has responded by launching a consultation on food packaging. Although nutritional labelling is common in the UK, with over 80% of food packaging containing some information, details often vary making comparisons difficult. With consistency of information as the primary aim, the consultation is being run in partnership across the UK governing administrations.
As we look ahead, perhaps the most telling document which arose from the last month is the Department of Health’s ‘Corporate Plan’. The plan outlines the DH’s priority areas for the next year and contains the statement “Successful change, delivering the transition to the new system”.
A seemingly simple aim, but one that looks set to stoke the fires of opposition once again.