At last we have some details of the government’s long-awaited consultation on reform of long-term care. But let’s be clear: this will not be a social care green paper.
Plans for the consultation were announced on Thursday in a written statement to parliament by Damian Green, the first secretary of state. He did call it a green paper – something that had been in doubt – and said it would be published “by summer recess 2018”. Recess is likely to be late July.
It looks like its appearance will be more than a year, then, after the general election in June at which the Conservatives’ ideas for care funding reform were so disastrously mishandled, almost certainly contributing to the loss of their majority, and the subsequent Queen’s speech, which promised that the new government “will work to improve social care and will bring forward proposals for consultation”.
But this is a different prospectus than that implied by that pledge. In one sense, as Green said, it is broader than social care services and broader than funding alone: it will “incorporate the wider networks of support and services which help older people to live independently, including the crucial role of housing and the interaction with other public services”.
In another sense, however, it is far narrower. Care for younger adults, which accounts for almost half of all council spending on adult social care and includes the fastest growing element, learning disability, is to be excluded from the green paper. Instead, it will be reviewed by “a parallel programme of work” led jointly by the departments of health and communities and local government.
Given this, many sector bodies that had been stressing the central importance of having a green paper considering social care as a whole have been notably muted in their response. Even the usually vocal Voluntary Organisations Disability Group, representing not-for-profit providers of services for disabled people, has welcomed the announcement as “a step forward”, while cautioning that disability provision must not be sidelined.
Reaction on social media has been more robust. Calls for an all-age approach were supported even by some of those named as advisers on the green paper, while Victor Adebowale, the crossbench peer and chief executive of care provider Turning Point, simply tweeted #notgoodenough.
Other critics have pointed out that there is no care users’ or workers’ representation among the 12 experts, who will “provide advice and support engagement in advance of the green paper”. Trade union Unison branded this “a huge mistake”.
Carers’ groups were meanwhile left wondering what had happened to the carers’ strategy promised by the government in March 2016. It had been thought it might be rolled into the green paper, but Green’s statement made no mention of carers.
The accepting response of the sector establishment to the proposals is, no doubt, a reflection of relief that there is to be any kind of green paper at all. The focus on older people may finally point to a way forward on the vexed issue of care funding that has been becalmed in the muddy waters of politics since the Dilnot commission reported in 2011.
The 12 experts, ranging from statistician Sir Andrew Dilnot himself to Caroline Abrahams, charity director of Age UK, and Martha Lane Fox, the crossbench peer and dotcom businesswoman who seems to pop up on most government reviews, may also prove able to shape the consultation purposefully before it goes live next summer.
However, anyone with an interest in social care for younger adults will be left trusting that the “parallel programme of work” proves meaningful and that the sector stays in one piece. The spectre of the division of the former cradle-to-grave social services function into adult and children’s services in 2004 hangs heavy in the air.
Source : Government plans to reform England’s social care are an opportunity missed : The Guardian