Government postpones ‘do or die’ meeting on social care in England

Talks between Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak and Matt Hancock called off as calls grow for plan to tackle crisis

A “do or die” meeting on social care involving Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak and Matt Hancock has been postponed, it is understood, as the government came under renewed pressure over delays in setting out a policy for the sector.

The discussion between the prime minister, the chancellor and the health secretary, billed as a chance to set out broad policy objectives for social care, had been scheduled for Tuesday. It is not known why it was postponed, or when the meeting will take place.

Adult social care leaders have written to Boris Johnson calling for him to urgently set out a broad 10-year vision for transforming England’s creaking social care system.

Asked about the postponement, Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, said he was unaware of the initial meeting. “I didn’t know that it was happening, and I didn’t know that it had been called off,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Kwarteng said developing a plan to properly fund social care in England, as promised by Johnson when he became prime minister, remained a priority for the government.

“You’ll appreciate that we’ve had an extraordinary year in terms of the Covid response,” he said. “It’s something that we need to act on, and we need to work out what our response to this very urgent problem is.”

Ministers face increasing pressure to not just come up with a plan for the sector, but to devote sufficient spending to ensure it is not routine for people’s savings to be eaten up by social care costs in older age.

A letter sent on Monday morning and signed by social care experts including David Fothergill, the chair of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, Anna Severwright of the care reform movement Social Care Future and Martin Green, the chief executive of Care England, said care reform should be seen as a key part of the wider plan to upgrade England’s infrastructure, and must go further than simply ensuring care bills are capped to prevent people having to sell their homes to pay for care.

It calls for a short-term cash injection to stabilise the care system, followed by a longer term investment plan to make the system simpler and fairer, and a new deal for staff to deliver improvements in pay and training.

“In common with all people who draw on care and support, and colleagues working across social care, we are clear that the time to deliver reform is now. Reform must be underpinned by a positive vision,” the letter says.

Writing for the Daily Mail on Monday, Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary who now chairs the Commons health committee, urged the prime minister to ignore the “national bean counters” and devote sufficient resources to social care.

Calling the meeting between Johnson, Sunak and Hancock “a do or die moment for social care”, Hunt argued it would be a false economy to limit spending, given the knock-on effects of insufficient care provision on the NHS.

He wrote: “Nothing could be worse as we try to bring down the waiting times for 5 million people – and we are guaranteed winter crisis after winter crisis when hospitals fill up. So rather than put our heads in the sand and hope the problem goes away, it is time to grasp the nettle.”

Sir Andrew Dilnot, who wrote a 2011 government-commissioned report into options for social care, also called for ambition, saying a 1% increase in overall government spending “will take us from a system that we should all be ashamed of to a system we could be proud of”.

He told Today: “My encouragement would be: be generous. The amounts of money we’re talking about are not huge, and the impact this has on people’s lives is massive.”

Dilnot said rather than endless wrangling over caps to payments for social care, the idea of fair payments should be addressed through general taxation. “If we want wealthier people to pay more towards social care, then let’s have a national insurance contribution dedicated towards social care,” he said.

“Trying to use the social care system to target wealthier people is always going to be unsuccessful, because the only people it would target would be wealthy people who were unlucky enough to have high social care needs. So it’s kind of a category error. Fairness is important, but the tax system is the best way of achieving it.”


Peter Walker Political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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