Before George Osborne makes his Autumn Statement on December 5th, and following the publication of the Care and Support White Paper this past July, we once again found ourselves in the midst of Party Conferences. From Brighton to Birmingham and Manchester, a downtrodden economy was dampening memories of the Jubilee and the Olympic and Paralympic Games. How would the care crisis feature in the annual festival of preaching to the choirs?
At Labour Party Conference in Manchester, the Leader of the Opposition, the Rt Hon Ed Miliband MP, deftly wove social care into the many strands of his ‘One Nation’ narrative:
“To be One Nation, we have got to give much greater dignity to our elderly population because […] we’re going to have to tackle the care crisis that faces so many families up and down this country.”
According to Mr Miliband, standing and gesticulating vigorously, the answer lay not with the current administration:
“Your frail mum and dad are not getting the care they need because the Government says it can’t afford it.”
The caveat being, of course, that Labour could not rectify that particular state of affairs until 2015, assuming the party is elected, of course. Interestingly, Mr Miliband’s speech contained no promise to implement the Dilnot Commission’s proposals.
An even more robust vision of the future of social care was raised, not surprisingly, by Shadow Secretary of State for Health, the Rt Hon Andy Burnham MP. The MP for Leigh lamented the current ‘dementia tax’ the sometimes excruciating costs of caring for those with the condition. This is particularly poignant considering the Prime Minister’s Dementia Challenge, a programme seeking to positively impact those suffering from dementia, launched in March. The Shadow Secretary of State for Health, told the Conference that:
“The NHS is at a fork in the road. Two directions: integration or fragmentation. We have chosen our path. Not Cameron’s fast-track to fragmentation. But whole-person care. A One Nation system built on NHS values, putting people before profits.”
Burnham’s speech echoed the comments he made at a roundtable policy discussion I organised for the Young Fabians Health Network in May of this year. Then, too, he raised the possibility of bringing social, mental and physical care under one umbrella in order to comprehensively, robustly and cost-effectively treat individuals. Current stresses on the hospitals, in part due to Ed Pickles’ cuts to local authorities, have led to bed blocking and it is difficult to imagine not addressing the lack of cohesion between the services, claimed Mr Burnham.
Over in the seat of power, the new Secretary of State for Health, the Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt, spoke at Conservative Party Conference. In his first official speech since being appointed in September’s reshuffle, Mr Hunt declared:
“At a critical moment for the NHS, my priorities will be to give patients in Britain the best survival rates in Europe for major diseases and to transform the way the health and social care system looks after older people. Not just our approach to conditions like dementia, but the way we care for people.”
Delving into the topic of an ageing society, he raised the spectre of Winterbourne View and other truly appalling incidents before assuring his audience, albeit with substantial caveats, that he wanted to implement Dilnot:
“We need to face up to some hard truths about how we are going to pay for social care. I am proud that next year’s Care and Support Bill will mean that no one is forced to sell their house in their lifetime to pay for care…But we also want to go further and implement the Dilnot cap on social care costs as soon as we are able.”
One can imagine a situation where the lack of funding for Dilnot will simply never enable a cap to be implemented. Indeed, former Liberal Democrat Minister of State for Care Services Paul Burstow has blamed the Treasury for the lack of movement on care funding reform. To see the impact that the cash caveat will have on health and social care, we will now look to the Autumn Statement to see how the Treasury will facilitate the implementation of the planned reforms.