‘Statutory watchdog needed to resolve care funding crisis’

Social care's funding crisis can only be tackled through the creation of a statutory watchdog tasked with holding ministers to account for underfunding.

Social care’s funding crisis can only be tackled through the creation of a statutory watchdog tasked with holding ministers to account for underfunding and educating the public about the sector.

That was the message from a paper today by think-tank the Strategic Society Centre, which called for the creation of an Office for Care and Living to address the various political issues that explain the chronic underfunding of adult social care.

The office would be based on the Office for Budget Responsibility, set up by the coalition to provide information on the state of the public finances that was independent of government.

The paper argues that long-term under-funding of social care arises from a number of factors that cause politicians to neglect the issue, including:

● A lack of public understanding of what social care is and what constitutes good quality or improvement, in contrast to the NHS, where the length of waiting times is a widely accepted indicator.

● Funding decisions being taken locally, limiting national media coverage and discussion.

● Politicians fearing the impact on their popularity of decisions to improve social care funding through new taxes or contributions.

● The disparate and diverse nature of the social care lobby, which limits its influence.

● Ideological division over key issues in social care funding, such as whether personal care should be free and funded out of taxation or not.

“Campaigners for social care funding reform need to recognise that any boost to public spending on care may only ever prove temporary if the underlying factors that see social care neglected by politicians are not addressed,” said report author James Lloyd, director of the Strategic Society Centre. “A sustainable solution to long-term care funding requires a proper ‘fix’ for these issues.”

This would be provided by the Office for Care and Living, he said, which would collect and publish accessible data on care funding and projected demand, carry out public education campaigns, promote media coverage of care and providing a voice for the sector.

Lloyds stressed that the office could criticise and challenge decisions taken by ministers in relation to social care and its funding.

The paper comes with the government in the midst of an “engagement process” to shape its White Paper on adult social care, which will contain recommendations on reforming the funding system, informed by this year’s report by the Dilnot commission.

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