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General Election 2024: Will this be the year of social care?

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has confirmed a summer General Election, meaning candidates have under two months to perfect their plans for social care – an area that has faced significant neglect.

Speculations have been circulating for months about when the next General Election will take place. However, last night Rishi Sunak took to the steps of particularly damp Downing Street and revealed it will be happening on 4th July 2024. The excessive amounts of rain experienced yesterday, could foreshadow how well campaigns will be received over the next six weeks.

a street sign on the side of a building

The news comes just weeks after the Labour party stormed the local elections as they bypassed the Conservatives by around 20 percentage points in the polls, suggesting they might end 14 years of Conservative ruling in the summer.  

Whilst announcing the election, Sunak referenced a number of issues the Conservative party have faced and what they will be focusing on, should they get back into parliament. These included defence spending, immigration levels, school standards, and NHS funding but there was no mention of social care.

With this in mind, a number of industry experts have warned ministers need to quickly brush up on their social care policies as it is currently thought to be one of the most vulnerable sectors in the UK.

Mike Padgham, chair of the Independent Care Group (ICG) said: ‘At last we have a General Election. Let’s make sure it is a General Election for social care.

‘This is the moment, for social care. We must seize this opportunity to begin reform that will give care to millions who can’t get it; give fair pay to a workforce that is short of 152,000 staff; end the closure of care providers and finally treat the oldest and most vulnerable section of our community with the respect it deserves.’

Labour’s plans

Keir Starmer has announced that the party is committed to the introduction of a ‘national care service’ for adults’ services over the next 10 years, however, details about what this entails is yet to be confirmed. In the short-term, Labour have agreed to work towards establishing fair pay for staff working in adult social care to and to improve working conditions across the sector in a bid to boost recruitment and retention levels.

Both Labour and the Conservatives have also committed to legislating to reform the Mental Health Act 1983, although the Tories have failed to bring forward a bill during their parliament, despite committing to reform the MHA in their 2019 manifesto and brought forward draft legislation in 2022.

The Mental Health Act was created 40 years ago and currently states that when some people have been detained (or sectioned) they don’t get a say in their treatment. In addition, it has also been found that people living in more deprived areas of the country are more than three and a half times more likely to be detained than those in the least deprived places.

What about children’s reforms?

As well as contributing towards bettering adult social care, ministers also have a responsibility to look after children’s care. As it stands, our current government don’t have the best track record in this area.

Within their 2019 manifesto, the Conservatives pledged ‘to review the care system to make sure that all care placements and settings are providing children and young adults with the support they need’. Although, in 2022 an Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, led by Frontline founder Josh MacAlister, was published which suggested no progress has been made. The report was advocating for a shift from intervening in families’ lives at points of crisis to supporting them earlier, to enable more children to stay with their parents

The Department for Education adopted a number of the proposals in its ‘Stable Homes, Built on Love’ strategy – which was published last year – but the majority of its agenda is yet to reach the testing stage. In the strategy, ministers claimed they would aid family help, lead child protection practitioners to ensure young people always remain safe and implement new agency social work rules curbing councils’ use of children’s social work locums which were due to come into force this summer, however, it remains unclear whether statutory guidance will be published before polling day.

On this topic, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has also announced plans to stop young people from smoking, but it is now unclear whether these rules will become law before July.

Despite the Conservatives looking weak when it comes to children’s social care, the Labour party aren’t in a much better position. The party is yet to speak up on how they will improve the sector, however, chief social worker for children, Isabelle Trowler, has predicted whatever the election outcome, the agenda will continue.

Money, money, money

It isn’t a secret that local authorities are struggling financially and are having to make service cuts which are drastically impacting on the social care sector. The latest report from the Local Government Association (LGA) found that a mere two-third of councils are confident they will be able to deliver statutory adult social care services by 2025/26 due to a lack of investment.

Against this backdrop, the LGA also revealed that despite eight in ten local authorities forecasting to cut spending on non-statutory services, councils are concerned about being able to meet all their legal duties under the Care Act next year.

Regardless, neither party have addressed how they plan on helping this spiralling issue, both remain focused on their pledge to get public sector debt falling as a percentage of national income by the fifth year of rolling economic forecasts. Rishi Sunak’s cabinet have pencilled in average public spending rises of just 1% a year in real terms from 2025-26 to 2028-29.

Although, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, have reported that the NHS, defence spending, overseas aid and childcare are likely to receive more generous settlements, implying cuts of 3.4% a year on average in real terms to other services. This includes local government which ultimately comes at the expense of social care.

Only time will tell

Overall, the parties plans for social care will not be revealed until their manifestos are published next month. Until then, industry experts are crossing their fingers that ministers will finally recognise the dire state of the sector.

‘We have endured 30 years of neglect, betrayal and broken promises. Now we want to see the manifestos and hear what they intend for social care,’ Mike Padgham said. ‘And we must grasp this rare opportunity to get the country a cradle to the grave service it deserves.’

Mike added: ‘When the candidates come to our doorsteps, we must ask them what they intend for social care and not let them off with weasel words or vague promises.’

Image: Nick Kane

More on this topic:

Palliative care sector unites to call on next government

Back to work: Rishi Sunak sets out plans to sack ‘sick note culture’


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