So the mood music in advance of the Budget was roughly correct: we have an emergency injection of funds to keep the social care show on the road plus a longer term Government review, in the form of a Green Paper, to develop a new sustainable funding approach. Whether the rescue package will turn out to be enough to persuade providers who are wobbling to stay in the market, or allow councils to do a better job at meeting rising demand over the next couple of years than they have over the last few remains however to be seen.
£2 billion over three years is a lot of money but there again rather more has been cut from social care since 2010 and, as far as I recall, the various estimates from think tanks of how much money will be needed to arrest further decline all come in higher. We will have to wait and see, but it remains entirely possible that a further bail out of social care will be required before the Green Paper process is complete and a new, improved funding approach – please God – has been put in place and is operational.
Personally I am really pleased that the Government has committed to producing a Green Paper, rather than one of the other mechanisms open to it in terms of a strategic review. It is much better than yet another Commission because the essence of a Green Paper is that it forces a government to set out proposals, on which it then consults. Once firmed up and possibly amended in response to comments, the usual form is that a White Paper is produced – a more definite set of policy intentions – followed by legislation if needed and certainly by an implementation plan of some kind. Given the complexity of the issues a ‘how to’ plan of this kind will be a must, and there are likely to be transitional funding requirements too.
Critics may worry that this will all take several years and could be yet another opportunity to kick social care funding reform into the long grass. However, if that was the intention a Green Paper would not be the most obvious vehicle to choose! It is true that sometimes ideas are floated in a Green Paper and never see the light of day again, but when this happens it is embarrassing for any administration and the pressures bearing down on social care are so intense that something will have to be done – inaction isn’t an option and it is just awfully sad that it has taken so long for a Government to recognise this. Credit to this one for doing so.
So we are in a new and welcome place as far as social care is concerned and today marks an important step forward. Of course, at Age UK we may end up strongly opposing whatever the Government eventually proposes in its Green Paper, and we certainly reserve the right to do so, but nonetheless, an initiative of this kind is horribly overdue and above all, for the sake of the 1.2 million older people with unmet care needs in this country, and their families, we simply can’t go on as we are.