Vision of Civilised Care

Despite Gordon Brown’s extra billions, the NHS finds itself in a cash crisis and social care’s finances are inevitably being squeezed as a result. So the publication this week by the King’s Fund of the Wanless social care review shines a welcome ray of hope over a rather bleak landscape.

Its ambitious vision for our older people comes as a refreshing and timely reminder that we are one of the richest countries in the world and as such we can afford to treat vulnerable people decently. We do not need to settle for second best if we get our spending priorities right.

Derek Wanless sets out several possible scenarios but plumps for what he describes as “the partnership model” in which all older people would get a basic standard of free personal care and then individuals could make extra contributions – matched by the state – up to an agreed limit for more complex care packages. Those who can’t afford to pay would be able to claim
benefits to help them.

The proposals amount to a complete rethink of the idea of providing a “safety net” for the very poor and letting everyone else fend for themselves. Wanless rightly concludes that this system – with its hated means-test – was unfair to large numbers of older people who, although often living on a very meagre income, had managed to scrape together some savings.

Coinciding with the publication of the Wanless findings, the government has announced it is commissioning a major review of its own, looking at the demands on social care across the whole sector. In announcing the move this week the Department of Health appears to be trying to play down the significance of the King’s Fund inquiry. It wants to sideline the proposals for older people’s care with the argument that the review was a more narrowly  focused piece of work.

But this attempt to steal Wanless’s thunder just won’t wash. The reason the King’s Fund commissioned him to write the report in the first place was because the government refused to do it themselves.

Ministers would do well to forget spin and concentrate on what the new report is saying and whether the proposal to raise spending on social care from 1.3 per cent to 2 per cent of GDP over the next 20 years really is such an outlandish suggestion.

● See Call for free level of minimum care

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