What next for social care reform?

A woman and her support worker pay for something at a till.

Just over a year ago, the Department of Health and Social Care published a White Paper designed to ‘fix social care’. A lot has changed since then. We’ve been through two Prime Ministers, three Health and Social Care Secretaries and three Ministers of State for Care.

Unsurprisingly, the Government’s plans for social care reform have changed. Soon, the Government will set out its next steps in an ‘implementation paper’.  

Where does all this leave social care?

The White Paper was never going to fix social care

Even if everything in the White Paper had gone ahead, social care would still be in crisis. We said so at the time.

But we know now that the Government won’t introduce every proposal the Government originally announced. Over the past year, they’ve delayed some measures. They’ve dropped others altogether.

What does this mean for people with complex disabilities?

The cap on care costs

Some of the measures the Government have postponed wouldn’t have helped many disabled people in the first place. While the original plans did include £5.4 billion in funding between 2022/23 and 2024/25, a significant amount of this would have gone towards the introduction of cap on care costs. But few people with complex disabilities would have benefited from it.

Although the Government has delayed the introduction of the cap, it hasn’t taken away the additional funding. Councils will still receive this extra money, but they will be able to spend it on addressing other problems facing the social care system. This could make a real difference to disabled people’s lives.

Fair Cost of Care

But some of the plans they’ve delayed would have helped tackle some of the major problems in social care.

For example, local authorities often don’t have enough money to pay social care providers properly. The White Paper proposed a ‘Fair Cost of Care’ fund to allow local authorities to pay providers rates that reflect the true cost of providing care.  Although we had concerns about how this would work in practice, it was still a positive first step towards making sure local authorities can pay providers fairly.  

The Government has postponed this, meaning providers will still struggle to pay competitive wages to care workers. At a time when providers are struggling to recruit the right people, this will only make things worse. 

What we want to see

While some of these delays and cancellations to social care reforms will negatively impact disabled people, the Implementation Paper is also an opportunity for the Government to include some of things it missed out of the White Paper.

A workforce strategy

The Government should set out a workforce strategy to make sure disabled people can always access the care and support they need.

Low wages, a lack of recognition and limited opportunities for advancement…

All of these make it harder to hire and keep the right care workers.

With workforce shortages having even more of an impact on the sector than the rest of the economy, now is the time for the Government to solve the problems we’ve known about for years. 

The White Paper set out some positive steps to address this. We particularly welcomed the £500 million investment in the care workforce.

The Government need to continue prioritising tackling the workforce crisis. And this is best done alongside a full workforce strategy – just like the Government has promised to the NHS.

Making sure disabled people get the housing they need

As things stand, too many people with complex disabilities don’t get the chance to live somewhere that supports them to live independently.  

We were pleased when the Government used the White Paper to announce a £300 million fund to support the integration of housing into health and social care strategies.

We’re hoping that the Implementation Paper will set out exactly how the Government will use this money to make sure that more disabled people can access the housing that is right for them.

What’s next?

The White Paper was never going to fix social care. The Government could use the Implementation Paper to water down its proposals even more.

We’ll be looking carefully at the Implementation Paper to see how well its measures will address the challenges faced by disabled people who draw on care and support.

By working with MPs and civil servants, we hope to persuade the Government to take this opportunity to make sure that everyone gets the support they need to lead independent and meaningful lives.