Sector leaders and organisations have reacted with dismay after the government failed to address the pressing issues facing social care.
This year’s King’s Speech, delivered on 7 November, focused on growing the economy, strengthening society and crime reduction. Health-specific announcements included tackling smoking by raising the age of sale for tobacco products and implementing the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, both of which we support and look forward to supporting as plans develop.
The promise to raise the age of sale for tobacco products, effectively eliminating smoking for the next generation, is an ambitious and bold health policy that has so far only been implemented in one other country. While there is further to go, we welcome this announcement as a vital first step in moving to a smoke-free generation.
But beyond this, there was little in this year’s King’s Speech for the NHS, and adult social care and health leaders and organisations are left exasperated that mental health reform has again been kicked into the long grass.
Silence on Social Care
Care England expressed disappointment with the silence on social care in the King’s Speech, with Professor Martin Green OBE, Chief Executive of Care England, saying: “When Boris Johnson was first elected as Prime Minister, he stood on the steps of 10 Downing Street and promised to fix social care. 3 Prime Ministers later, that promise sits broken. With silence on social care in the King’s Speech, the pressure is now on the former Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Jeremy Hunt, to outline how the Government can make true on its promise. Whilst last year’s Autumn Statement saw an unprecedented investment into the sector, the dial has not tangibly shifted. The stabilisation of the social care sector is crucial for those who rely on care and support and for the 1.6 million strong workforce, the NHS, the tax-payer, and the economy more broadly. Care England remains hopeful that the Autumn Statement will be an opportunity to show that this Government is truly committed to fixing social care.”
Kicked Into Long Grass
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “There is one standout policy here on health: reforms to create a smokefree generation. That will have huge long-term benefits for the health of the nation. But beyond that, there is little in this King’s Speech for the NHS, and leaders will be exasperated that mental health reform has again been kicked into the long grass.
“While there are some positives including a recommitment to tacking waiting lists and boosting the workforce, health leaders will be particularly disappointed at the lack of commitment to taking forward the Draft Mental Health Act Bill. Parts of the current outdated act from 1983 not only make the lives of those experiencing a mental health crisis much harder, but worsen health inequalities. While there may well be record levels of investment in mental health services, with over 1.4 million on waiting lists, these services are a long way from where they need to be. Reform is long overdue, and this is another missed opportunity.”
Social Care “Gone Begging”
Carers Trust’s CEO, Kirsty McHugh, said: “This is the final year for the UK Government to make good on its promise to fix funding of social care but that opportunity has yet again gone begging. The Prime Minister claims to be focused on long-term solutions, so to have nothing to say on one of the most crucial long-term issues we face is astonishing and suggests this is little more than empty rhetoric.
“While those in power do nothing, around seven million unpaid carers will continue to prop up the social care system with no additional help. By completely failing to support them properly, the Government has ignored millions of people who are grappling with one of the UK’s biggest problems. No wonder carers tell us they feel forgotten, neglected and burnt out.”
System in Crisis
Sam Monaghan, CEO of MHA says:
‘The social care system remains in crisis, so it was disappointing to see nothing in today’s King’s Speech to alleviate ongoing pressures.
Over 400,000 people are awaiting assessment, care provision or review according to figures from the Association of Adult Directors of Social Services (ADASS), while there are now more care home closures than openings.
With an estimated 150,000 vacancies across the social care sector, there are also ongoing challenges around recruitment and retention. In the face of an ageing population, demand for skilled and caring professionals will only increase.
That’s why we’re calling on the Government to back and invest in a Social Care Council, as part of our Fix Care For All campaign. The Council would act as an independent body representing the 1.5 million people working in social care by examining pay scales, accreditation, training and recruitment, and investing more into changing public perceptions around what it means to choose care as a career.
The Kings Speech gives us a glimpse into what the Government will choose to prioritise in the coming year. With so little emphasis given to social care here, we can only hope that there’s more to come for the sector as the major political parties clarify their manifestos, ahead of a potential 2024 election’
Think “Long Term”
Richard Murray, Chief Executive of The King’s Fund independent health and care think-tank said: ‘We welcome the government’s bold commitment to introduce a phased smoking ban and moves to restrict selling e-cigarettes to children. If the ban is passed into law, the landmark health measure would be a significant step towards preventing poor health, saving lives and reducing inequalities. ‘Passing the smoking ban legislation would be a major milestone, and government should then have the courage to implement the ban quickly. Disappointingly, we have recently seen other measures to protect people from ill health, like banning junk food advertising to help tackle obesity, passed into law only for implementation to be delayed.
‘As shown in new figures published earlier today by the OECD*, Britain fares poorly compared to its peers across many health outcomes including life expectancy. The government should implement their delayed obesity measures if they want to help reduce burgeoning illness in the UK.
‘The notable absence of a new and reformed Mental Health Act from the King’s Speech is deeply disappointing. These reforms, such as changes to the criteria for detaining patients under the Act, have been carefully considered over many years, and it is worrying to see them deprioritised. Not bringing forward these reforms risks widening health inequalities.
‘Any government that is serious about improving the health and wellbeing of the population, cutting waiting lists and making the NHS fit for the future, will need to think longer term about improving access to out of hospital care, making health and social care a more attractive career and tackling the biggest risk factors to people’s health.’