Conservatives’ social care U-turn leaves mistrust and uncertainty

By Savi Hensman
May 27, 2017

After dismay from voters at Conservative Manifesto plans for social care, Theresa May, the party leader and current Prime Minister, has backed down. Changes will still leave many service users poorer. However the maximum anyone would pay would be limited, she now says, contrary to the position announced just days before.

Yet previous promises of a cap have not been met, nor have the options been costed. So the situation remains unclear. In addition her refusal to admit that policy has changed may fuel public mistrust of politicians.

Many people had been surprised and angry when the 2017 Manifesto was launched on 18 May. This made it clear that many home care users would lose funding from their councils if the Conservatives won the June general election.

Instead they would be expected to sell their homes to pay, as already happens to people in residential care, though the sale would be delayed until they died and payment would stop when they had £100,000 worth of assets left.

In practice, many homeowners borrow against their housing value to help pay for home adaptations, living costs or younger relatives’ accommodation or education. Also, interest charges for deferred payments could be sizeable, especially for home care users who became disabled when young. So little, if anything, might be left after payment of care costs.

There were strong negative reactions. But Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, insisted to the BBC that the Conservatives had abandoned their previous commitment to capping care costs. He said that “we’re being completely explicit” about dropping the cap.

On 21 May the work and pensions secretary, Damian Green, made it clear that the Conservatives would not “look again” at these plans.

Then on 22 May, following a fall in the Conservatives’ poll lead over other parties, Theresa May radically changed the policy, promising an upper limit on what care users would payThere would be a consultation on the level of the cap. However, she insisted that “nothing has changed”.

Later she was interviewed by Andrew Neil of the BBC on this and other issues concerning the credibility of her party’s promises . Many found her responses unconvincing.

The costing of this hastily revised policy is entirely unclear. However, even if an upper limit on what care users pay was promised yet again, in view of past experience it was uncertain whether this would actually happen.

“We want to create a system which is based on choice and which rewards the hundreds of thousands of people who care for an elderly relative full-time. So we will allow anyone to protect their home from being sold to fund residential care costs by paying a one-off insurance premium that is entirely voluntary. Independent experts suggest this should cost around £8,000,” declared the 2010 Conservative Manifesto.

In 2013 the Conservative-led Coalition announced “A cap on costs at £75,000” plus “A new means test threshold of £123,000… In future, people will no longer need to be down to their last £23,000 before they get help.”

The 2014 Care Act did indeed include a cap on care costs. A Department of Health circular to local authorities stated that “April 2016 will see the introduction of a cap on care costs and an extension of means tested support so that more people are eligible for local authority support with their care costs… This represents one of the biggest changes to how care and support is paid for since the creation of the welfare state.”

The 2015 Conservative Manifesto  picturing Theresa May and Cabinet colleagues on the cover, promised, “We will guarantee that you will not have to sell your home to fund your residential social care.” However a couple of months after election victory, the government announced that the cap would be delayed until 2020.

No major party has an outstanding record on social care. However the system is now facing perhaps unprecedented problems. It is severely underfunded and plans for the future are hazy. Meanwhile public confidence in politicians may have been further damaged.

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© Savitri Hensman is an Ekklesia associate and respected commentator on welfare and other issues. She is author of the book Sexuality, struggle and saintliness: same-sex love and the church (Ekklesia, 2016): http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/22613 and has been involved in seeking greater inclusion.

Ekklesia's General Election theme for 2017 is #Vote4CommonGood. This will be explored by writers and researchers from different perspectives and backgrounds, as well as analysis of the different party manifestos in relation to the principles and policies we have advocated for many years.

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