D-Day for adult social care

Funding adult social care is a major headache for both local and central government. Yesterday, the insurance company Partnership hosted a conference in Westminster with the social care great-and-the-good to take a look at where we are and what’s next.

On the social care to-do list, central government is the red-faced member of staff with actions outstanding. The day’s first speaker, Norman Lamb MP, despaired at the tendency of successive governments to consign adult social care reform to the “too difficult” box. It’s certainly true that a depressing number of commissions of worthies that have toiled away in dark committee rooms, charted a way forward, only to be met by deafening silence from sheepish ministers.

Lamb, of course, knows the truculence of politicians on this issue only too well. He was badly burned by the collapse of the pre-election cross-party consensus on adult social care into political point-scoring and hollow sloganeering. Given the ballooning number of old people, he argued that national politicians have a duty not to allow this to happen again. He’s surely right to say that the review by the mild-mannered, moderate economist Andrew Dilnot is a golden opportunity to establish consensus across the political spectrum. Dilnot will report in July, which makes the next three months critical.

That’s not to say, however, that central government is the only party that should be contemplating a stint on the social care naughty step. Market research expert Michelle Harrison pointed out that almost all adults recognise that the current funding arrangements for social care are unsustainable and that they’ll need to pay their own way to an increasing extent. Alas, however, people also feel that there’s absolutely no good point for them to start planning for their future. In a depressing slide, she showed that people consider it either too early or too late to plan.

One way of beating this apathy is to be clearer about what people can expect from the state. At present, people tend to assume that the state will pick up the bill for their care. Statistician and former civil servant, Les Mayhew, has the clever proposal that government could group people into bands based on their income and assets, and outline how much each group could expect from the state. That would allow people to quickly get a sense of how much they need to put aside.

Local councils can also help end this apathy. Lord Lipsey, a member of the Royal Commission on Long-term Care of the Elderly and President of SOLLA, pointed out that councils could do more to drive the uptake of financial advice. He mentioned the LGiU’s recent report on this issue, Independent Ageing, and had a supportive word or two for its recommendations. He also provided a rare note of optimism, pointing out that people no longer reacted with fury to the proposal that they should pay for their own care (as had been the case with his Royal Commission minority report).

Overall, then, yesterday represented an outbreak of common sense. It remains to be seen, however, whether this cool-headedness will survive the heat and light of the political arena. If I were Dilnot’s stylist, I’d advise a tin hat to compliment his summer wardrobe.