MS1 - Social Care Citizen's Assembly Findings
[OOC: i'm guessing its one again now it's a new parliamentary session lol]
I rise to update the House on the results of the social care citizens assembly commissioned by the government.
As Britain ages, Madame Speaker, it is imperative that we here in Parliament are prepared to take on the additional challenges and seize the opportunities presented by this demographic trend. Today, I rise to deliver a Statement on a topic that grows ever more crucial – social care. Social care, as this House doubtless knows, is particularly important for the elderly population and for their caretakers. Unfortunately, the current system is rife with problems. In this statement, I will address the problems facing the current patchwork of social care in the United Kingdom. Then, I will speak to the recent findings of the Citizens’ Assembly on Social Care. Finally, I will synthesise the results of the Citizens’ Assembly to develop a proposal that this Government believes will help alleviate the challenges facing our social care system as it stands today.
In providing social care, local governments are only obliged to provide for extremely low-income individuals with extreme need. Indeed, a recent report by the National Audit Office shows that 87% of councils will only provide care in cases of substantial or critical need. This leads to a central problem of the social care system. People, especially the elderly, are forced to pay for their care until they have to sell off their assets and become so poor that they then qualify for social care benefits from their local council.
Madame Speaker, the current structure of social care itself presents difficulty to comprehensive reform. This is because social care is largely handled by local councils, which are subject to politicking at the national level when it comes to their funding – for example, having been subjected to fiscal austerity under previous governments. There are estimates of multi-billion pound shortfalls in the funding for social care in the coming years ahead if Parliament does not act.
So far, it has been shown that the social care arrangements are not beneficial to many people in need of these vital services. It has also been shown that the local councils will face funding shortages in years to come under these current conditions. But how does social care impact carers and the firms that provide the care? Well, inside the industry it is clear that councils pay far less than would be needed to provide the high-quality support that our elderly deserve. This leaves many jobs undone and an effective shortage of care.
In many ways, Madame Speaker, the current status of social care is a result of the successes of the National Health Service. People are living longer, healthier, and more prosperous lives since the introduction of the NHS, and that is a record of which we should all be proud. With that record, however, comes the question of what is to be done about the future of social care. It is for that reason that this coalition government set in motion the process of creating a citizens’ assembly on social care, so we could find a viable way forward while engaging in consensus politics.
This assembly was comprised of dozens of individuals, selected at random and largely reflecting the population of the United Kingdom in background and political beliefs. They focused on learning about the options for social care reform, deliberating on what would work best, and then voting on suggestions for Parliament to undertake. Primarily, the citizens’ assembly focused on funding issues, recognising this as the primary challenge facing our social care system in the United Kingdom.
I will now address the findings and recommendations of that assembly. I will start at a high-level, values-based approach to their findings, and then move to more detailed assessment of their policy suggestions. The Citizens’ Assembly agreed to adopt the following values as critical to the future of social care in the United Kingdom.
First, Madame Speaker, the assembly concluded social care must be sustainable, meaning that funding is untouchable and for the long-term. The second value that was adopted was that social care must be fair and equal - from being free at the point of use to having an equality of standard of care. Third, and in a similar vein, social care ought to be universal, meaning a nationwide answer to the problem without a locality-based approach that mirrors the postcode lottery. The fourth value is high quality, with a well-staffed, well-trained and highly-professional workforce that commands higher pay alongside improved inspections and assessment of how care is provided. Finally, the Citizens’ Assembly agreed on the value of treating people with dignity, where the choice and decision-making lies with the individual, not a political entity.
After the values had been established, the assembly deliberated on how best to provide social care. By a 2-to-1 margin, the assembly decided that the best way forward is through an entirely publicly-funded social care system, with no means-testing or individual contributions required. This is in keeping with the values of fairness/equality and universality.
The value of sustainability and high quality, however, require that this reform be made in a manner that is fully-funded. To this end, a majority of the Citizens’ Assembly favored raising taxation to ensure that these goals can be met. The preferred method of achieving this increase would be a tax on higher-income earners via the income tax. The Citizens’ Assembly supported earmarking the funding of the income tax increase to go to social care directly, without the possibility of austere cuts to this vital service.
Other ideas that were met with some support, but not a majority, included a new Social Care Tax, higher National Insurance Contributions, or reducing spending in other areas of government. The concept of a wealth based ‘Social Care Tax’ was mainly rejected on the grounds of its political sustainability, though the concept was supported in principle. Specifically rejected options were an increased VAT, Council Tax, or Inheritance Tax, which the Assembly viewed as more punitive options.
I turn now to my third aim in this statement: to outline a proposal that this Government will undertake. It is clear to this Government that the existing arrangement of social care is a slowly-fading, outdated system in need of bold revitalisation. We believe that carers should be well-trained, well-equipped, and well-prepared for the vital role they play in our society. And we know that this Government is prepared to tackle the challenges of social care’s shortcomings, Madame Speaker.
Now, in looking for a solution, we readily recognise that the National Health Service is a major success for hard-working, everyday Britons. As Secretary for Health and Social Care, and as a member of this Government, I am proud to announce that this Government will be introducing legislation to create a National Care Service, free at the point of use and equipped to take over the responsibilities of overworked and underfunded local councils when it comes to providing social care for our seniors and those with disabilities. This will be estimated to cost six to seven billion pounds.
This will be funded by a social care charge paid by those who are more wealthy, levied on those most likely to need care: this is to ensure the young are not burdened via taxation to support older people. A Social Care Commission will monitor the tax against the rest of the economy, ensuring the funds are hypothecated and recommending alterations to the thresholds when necessary. Though we understand the Assembly had concerns over its political support, Madame Speaker, we firmly belief it is the principle that matters - for too long governments have deliberated on this issue: we will solve it.
Madame Speaker, more details will be presented in the upcoming budget and in legislation to establish the National Care Service. But this government has made it clear: we need a bold, radical vision that will stop our fragmented and cruel care system once and for all: nobody in this country believes that if you get cancer you get free treatment, but if you get dementia you could be forced to cough up over £100,000 - that must end. With consensus across the House and from the public, that is what we seek to do.
"[we] would rather die than leave the Labour Party." - Emily Thornberry.