We need to build a care system that is fit for the future - Liz Kendall

I want to talk about the lessons from more than a decade of failure on social care reform, and how Labour would start putting this right.The reason I care so passionately is because we live in the Century of Ageing, and we cannot build a better Britain with decent public services and a growing economy unless we finally face up to the challenge of social care.

I want to start with a brief recap of where we’ve got to after 13 years of Conservative Government.

Their flagship policy on social care reform, first promised in 2012, was the cap on care costs.

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Their plans for a £72,000 cap – much higher than Andrew Dilnot originally proposed – were first set out in 2013 and legislated for in 2014. But the cap was delayed in 2015 and postponed indefinitely in 2017.

Liz Kendall is Shadow Minister for Social Care. PIC: Dan Kitwood/Getty ImagesLiz Kendall is Shadow Minister for Social Care. PIC: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Liz Kendall is Shadow Minister for Social Care. PIC: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

In 2019, Boris Johnson solemnly pledged to “fix the crisis in social care once and for all” in his first speech as Prime Minister on the steps of Downing Street.

And the 2019 Conservative manifesto once again promised “nobody needing care should be forced to sell their home to pay for it”.

In 2021, the Government announced their latest cap at £86,000, paid for by a tax hike in National Insurance.

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But one year and two Prime Ministers later the policy was buried once and for all in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, despite Jeremy Hunt previously claiming his biggest regret as Health Secretary was failing to secure long-term social care reforms.

Tackling the 165,000 staff vacancies in social care – the highest since records began – should be the top priority for this Government.

And reforming services to help people stay living at home, rather than ending up in hospital when they don’t need to be there, is vital for older and disabled people, their families and the NHS.

So what should we learn from this decade of failure on reform?

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The first lesson is that you have to start with the right vision, purpose and values.

The main question Andrew Dilnot was asked by the then Prime Minister David Cameron was “how can people protect their assets, especially their homes, against the cost of care?”

This is undoubtedly a crucial question. It cannot be right that some people end up seeing their life savings wiped out because they are unlucky enough to need substantial amounts of care for dementia, but not for a disease like cancer.

But this unfairness is not the only issue that needs addressing when it comes to social care reform, especially for working age adults with disabilities - who make up a third of the users and half of the budget for social care – and for whom protecting their assets simply isn’t the question.

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It doesn’t tackle the 165,000 staff vacancies in social care, or help the millions of unpaid family carers who’ve been pushed to breaking point, or deliver more joined up, preventive care in the community and at home.

So the result is that the Tories have spent 13 years failing to deliver one aspect of reform, while the rest of the system has fallen apart.

Labour’s starting point is different. The question we seek to answer is how do we build a care system fit for the future, which meets the needs and aspirations of all older and disabled people and their families?

An abridged version of a speech by Liz Kendall, Shadow Minister for Social Care, at the Future of Care Leaders Conference.