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Social care reform – Starmer makes no promises

By social care writer Geoff Hodgson

When Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer spoke to the nation outside No. 10 Downing Street following Labour’s comprehensive general election victory, he didn’t promise to ‘fix social care’. He kept to generality and, if he promised anything at all, it was simply to govern with integrity and humility and work towards building a United Kingdom which people could feel more positive about.

Wise man – the outgoing Tories achieved remarkably little by way of social care reform during their 14 years of government and the new Health and Social Care Secretary, Wes Streeting, is going to focus first on the political imperatives of cutting NHS waiting times, training more GPs and dentists and improving mental health services. Social care lobbyists will be working hard to convince Mr Streeting that a well-functioning social care system is integral to a robust and effective National Health Service. If they succeed in this, we may then see Labour move to bring about what it outlined in its pre-election manifesto – the creation of a National Care Service.

The plan to introduce an £86k cap on care fees remains in place and, while there is no funding allocated for the cap, it is unlikely to be much of a fiscal burden, and while it is debateable how far this will go to easing the financial pressure on most of those who are paying for services, perhaps it will be introduced, as scheduled, in October next year.

At the heart of Labour’s plans for social care reform is a proposal for state-backed collective bargaining on social care pay, terms and conditions, which Labour hopes will attract more UK-based staff and so reduce the sector’s reliance on an immigrant workforce. The plans are spare on detail, but the broad approach is that government would bring together unions and employers to thrash out minimum wage rates, as well as policies such as pay progression. Once a deal is struck, the Government would give it statutory backing – so that it applies right across what is a highly fragmented workforce, with many thousands of individual employers.

Then there is the intention outlined in the Labour manifesto to set minimum standards for social care. This is interesting; Labour cannot be unaware of the Care Standards Act 2000, so will the new government seek to scrap and reinvent the National Minimum Standards already in place, or simply seek to modify them in some way?

No funding has been allocated for any of these approaches to social care reform and, its juggernaut majority notwithstanding, the new Government must be allowed some time to find its feet but those frail, elderly people whose lived experience is that they cannot source the services they need, and those who believe that a decent social care system is prerequisite to a robust NHS, have every reason to hope that Labour will listen to their calls for social care to be moved up the agenda.

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