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Four Party Conferences Down And Almost No Word On Social Care

The political parties must prioritise social care, says learning disability charity Hft, as it responds to limited discussion of social care at this year’s party conferences.

Kirsty Matthews, CEO of Hft, gives her thoughts: The party conferences held over the past few weeks offered an optimal opportunity for each party to lay out its priorities ahead of the upcoming General Election, and an equally perfect opportunity to publicly spotlight the need for social care reform.

However, it very quickly became evident that mentions of social care were in short supply.

The Liberal Democrats were the only party whose leader spoke about social care. Their proposals, including free personal care and a Carer’s Minimum Wage, are refreshing in comparison to the silence of other parties but, even here, there lacks a clear plan with regards to the introduction and funding of such measures. And, being the only party to discuss social care on this stage is an utter disappointment.

Labour’s leader failed to address social care at all, as did the incumbent Conservative Party, despite the Prime Minister’s predecessor committing to ‘fixing social care once and for all’ four years ago. It is beyond a shame that our sector has not just been neglected but is seemingly less of a priority to the Government and the major parties than it was at the last election.

All parties clearly recognise the importance of taking steps to support the NHS; Rishi Sunak pledged to reduce waiting lists whilst Keir Starmer made a commitment to the service and its workforce.

Although the NHS is a vital service that will rightfully be a priority for all major parties in the lead up to next year’s election, no party can afford to neglect social care.

The social care sector is intrinsically linked with the NHS; pressure in one inevitably leads to pressure in the other. Supporting people to remain independent and healthy in the community for as long as possible, through social care, is one of the key enablers to reducing discharge times and waiting lists in the NHS, something Keir Starmer himself identified as the biggest problem facing the NHS at this week’s Labour conference.

And yet, social care has repeatedly been deprioritised in the political agenda. Each party continues to drag their feet when it comes to addressing the unsurmountable workforce and financial challenges across social care. In fact, it is these challenges in our sector which demonstrate the distinct points of difference between the NHS and social care which shouldn’t, but do, exist.

Unlike the NHS, there is no national government budget for adult social care which is largely funded by local government revenue, with some piecemeal and short-term grants from central government.

This means social care is beholden to funding from cash-strapped Local Authorities and unknown quantities from central government, making it incredibly difficult to plan. It also often means providers are forced to make detrimental money-saving measures. Our own Sector Pulse Check research, produced in partnership with Care England, revealed that 82% of adult social care providers were either in deficit or experienced a decrease in their surplus in 2022.

We also know just how over-stretched and under-funded the social care workforce is; Skills for Care found that there are 152,000 vacancies in the adult social care sector. Yet, unlike for the NHS, there was no discussion of the social care workforce at the recent party conferences.

These financial and workforce pressures will only continue to grow if the current government, and the next, fails to recognise these challenges. For example, the Chancellor’s announcement that the National Living Wage will rise to at least £11 an hour next year will only place further pressure on social care providers if the Government does not account for fee rate increases at a Local Authority level. Similarly, should Labour’s proposed fair pay agreement be implemented, over-stretched providers and local authorities must not be asked to foot the bill; funding must instead be ring-fenced by central Government to cover this cost.

The impact of these financial and workforce challenges risks leaving many learning disabled adults without the invaluable support to live, work and socialise as they choose, having a knock-on impact for wider society, families, communities and the NHS.

Without a well-funded, widely recognised social care system that helps people stay healthy and independent for as long as possible, the NHS will continue to face growing pressure from increasing waiting lists, delayed discharge and overwhelmed staff.

We want to see the parties prioritise social care in the lead up to next year’s general election, not to tick a box but to ensure that the next government implements meaningful reform, securing the sustainability of our sector so we can continue to provide quality support to those who rely on it.














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