Chris Skidmore is the Member of Parliament for Kingswood, and a Member of the Health Select Committee. Follow Chris on Twitter.
Although somewhat overshadowed by A-level results day, perhaps the biggest story in today's news are the reports suggesting that the Government intend to commit to funding the Dilnot Commission’s proposals on social care in full. Most notably this includes a £1.7 billion annual commitment, to allow for the capping of the cost to the individual of social care at £35,000. It is suggested that the proposals will be implemented from 2017, with the money being allocated in the next spending review. This is a sensible course of action, rather than announcing a significant spending commitment above and beyond what is presently accounted for. It should also allow for the proposals to be funded through rationing elsewhere in government spending, rather than increased borrowing or taxation.
Clearly any new spending should also be met with a sharp intake of breath by fiscally responsible Conservatives, with a reasoned analysis of whether it is necessary and appropriate. We should always resist the siren call to throw taxpayers’ money at a problem. However, within this Conservative spirit is an acknowledgment that there are obligations that the government has a duty to fulfil – to our ageing and vulnerable – particularly those with a lifetime of hard work and contribution to their name. Then there is the simple fact of an ageing population, the demographics of which, particularly when compared to the ratio of those in working age, will become one of the most dominant themes in public service reform for decades.
Social care has always been one of the "Cinderella services", under-funded and little understood. The issues surrounding its funding have been kicked into the long grass time and time again, most notably by the last Labour government as my recent study (pdf) showed. Despite Tony Blair's promise to end the practice of people selling their homes to pay for care, Labour spent thirteen years on Royal Commissions, Green Papers, White Papers and a spectacularly flawed proposal for a "National Care Service", and were still no closer to squaring the circle than when they had first begun. It is this government that will be investing £7.5 billion in social care over the course of this Parliament, and is finally gripping the nettle of social care reform, as it must. Labour failed to act, and practised the cruel deception of putting reform off until a never-ending tomorrow. While Labour sat on its hands, according to research I commissioned from the House of Commons library, an estimated 24,000 people a year sell their homes to fund care – a rise of 20% over the past decade.
Dilnot's proposals are not a panacea; but they are a necessary start. As Conservatives, demonstrating our commitment to tackling reform head on, unlike the reactionary left who postpone and procrastinate, we will need to go further: for a start, our savings culture for old age that at present is woefully inadequate. In a 2008 survey, 3% of people claimed that they were already saving for their long-term care, 32% that they had plans to do so, and 64% that they had not. The Free Enterprise Group has called for a radical rethink on how not only tax breaks could be provided for savings for care, but also, on how cash direct payments for social care, as modelled in Germany and the Netherlands, rather than relying on monopolistic and inefficient local authority services, could liberate a market, establishing new providers and save enough money to pay for Dilnot.