Earlier this summer reports suggested that the newly installed health secretary, Sajid Javid, would like to form an alliance with the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, to insist that major reform of the UK’s social care system should be funded through higher taxes. With no clear plans for social care reform, and a continuous stream of delayed promises by the Government, announcing tax rises feels like it is jumping the gun somewhat.
Calls for social care reform have been getting louder and louder and quite frankly, it is astounding how long they have gone largely ignored. July marked the ten-year anniversary of the Dilnot Commission report. A report that aimed to reform social care in the UK, protect the public from sky-high bills for residential or lifetime care, and ensure the social care system was better prepared for future pressures.
A decade on, very little has been done to address a system which is very much in crisis and the pandemic has only shone a light on the intolerable pressure the whole system is under. The experience of the last 18 months has only intensified the need for urgent change and raised more questions about the care, we as a country, provide to people as they get older.
According to Audley’s own research this year, over half (52%) of over 55s think that the Government needs to reform the social care system very urgently – while 59% want to see more options for those needing care, and 60% want more financial support.
Therefore, hearing that the Treasury plans to inject more money into fixing the social care crisis should be welcome news. And yet, it gives me an all-too familiar sinking feeling.
There aren’t many sectors that would complain when the Government decides to throw money at its problems. But with social care, it strikes me as an entirely misguided and myopic move. There are far greater solutions to fix the social care crisis that don’t stretch the public purse – something that the Treasury should be eager to jump on.
Far from funnelling more money in to keep the broken system ticking along, the Government would do better to focus on the alternative solutions for later life care that can lift pressure off the entire breadth of our care and health services.
This needs a holistic approach. We must reduce the need for expensive residential care from the outset and remove it from being a mass housing solution it has sadly become. Instead, we have to focus on combining independent living with care provision to create a better quality of life for our increasingly ageing population. I, along with many others in the industry, believe that the solution lies in the housing-with-care model.
In fact, the first formal Westminster debate on housing-with-care was held in July, with MPs highlighting the shortage of specialist housing for older people and arguing that the housing-with-care model offers a desirable alternative for people in later life, emphasising the health and wellbeing benefits for property owners.
The debate also raised the very important topic of how well retirement communities fared through the challenges of the pandemic by enabling people to isolate effectively, behind their own front doors, while still receiving support throughout.
The Government has since confirmed that a housing-with-care task force is under consideration, which shows that things are moving in the right direction. But baby steps won’t be enough – the social care crisis is incredibly urgent, and it can’t be side-lined any longer.
The Government’s priority has to be adjusting housing planning policy to enable providers to build more specialist properties with care facilities attached. Pivoting the current approach rather than steaming ahead with building more of the same will free up budget for the Treasury to plug those much-needed gaps in funding. It’s a win-win all round.
The UK is home to a rapidly ageing population, and we have a responsibility as a nation to give more people the opportunity to live well and stay well as they get older.