End the funding turf war

The consultation on social care funding must put ideology aside and really ask those who use services what they want

Even those newspapers that have attacked Gordon Brown’s initial proposals for reforming social care funding have had to admit that there are no easy fixes here. On the one hand, there are principles of equity, social justice and a decent life for all, including disabled and older people. On the other, are longstanding fears about funding.

No wonder there has been a search for a new understanding of roles, responsibilities and relationships between the individual, family and the state, and the continuing quest for a financial settlement. This will need to satisfy the complex needs of middle Englanders they want some support from the state, without losing their money or homes, while still being able to feel morally superior to other welfare state service users.

If the government wanted to please middle England with its proposals for consultation, all it received from the Daily Mail‘s front page headline was a pasting. The government report, The Case For Change – Why England needs a new care and support system, makes frequent reference to the Caring Choices study, The Future Of Funding: Time for a change, which supports “co-funding”.

Policymakers should look a lot more carefully at its weak evidence base, mainly resting on the views of self-selected attendees at events, before taking too much notice of its message. What’s most important now is to ensure as wide and effective a consultation as possible with key stakeholders. Most important this must include the diverse range of service users most closely affected by these policies and changes.

Some big issues must be tackled in taking the discussion and policy forward. First, the party that is seen as most capable of looking after the NHS tends to be seen as the party most fit for government. The NHS is based on principles of universalism – a service free at the point of delivery. Wouldn’t the government be wise to check out more carefully the feasibility of connecting social care more closely with such popular values and principles?

Second, how will we ever get real integration between health and social care and end the turf wars between them, so damaging to service users and carers, so long as the two are based on conflicting systems of funding?

Some serious food for thought here for policymakers, even before the public consultation gets into its stride.

Peter Beresford, professor of social policy at Brunel University and chair of Shaping Our Lives, a national service-user controlled group

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