The long-awaited and much-needed reform of adult social care
will be delayed, according to reports. Here we go again. A report
in the Financial Times
on Monday said that
the Queen's Speech on May 9 will emphasise the importance of social
care reform, but there will be no bill on it in the coming session
of parliament. While the social care white paper is set to be
published in June, and ministers will be given "drafting authority"
to prepare legislation, it will not be introduced until the
following parliamentary session. This means any legislation will
not become law before late 2013 at the earliest, the report added.
On reading this disappointing, if not entirely unexpected, news, I
sighed and shook my head. I suspect many other people will have
done the same as, yet again, social care reform appears to have
been kicked into the long grass. The primary reason for this
appears to be funding, or the lack of it. Again, no change there.
For instance, last year, the Treasury baulked at the estimated cost
of implementing the recommendations of the Dilnot report - between
£1.3 and £2.2 billion - and doesn't appear to have changed its
stance. With the austerity programme set to continue for the
foreseeable future, it probably won't either. The Government is
also still licking its wounds from the fallout from the "granny
tax" in March's Budget. This measure, which phases out a specific
personal tax allowance to pensioners, caused outrage when it was
announced. The Government may want the dust to settle on this
before it announces more details on legislation that affects
pensioners' wallets. There is also the thorny problem that Dilnot
did not address in too much depth - the under-funding of the social
care system and the need for long-term sustainable arrangements to
cope with rising demographic pressures - both older people and
people with disabilities. Cross-party talks are on-going over this,
but they are, according to the FT
, making little progress.
Also, the move to delay any bill means the decisions on funding it
will fall into the next spending review in autumn 2013. If the
report is proved correct, it means the talk about
social care reform will continue for at least another year - as
will discussions over the current creaking social care system, with
local authorities, providers and budget holders continuing to try
to pull off the trick of doing more with less. With more cuts to
come in the next couple of years, it is a trick that will get
increasingly hard. While the system may not be at 'breaking point'
as some have claimed - the professionals involved will ensure that
it doesn't collapse despite the myriad problems it faces - action
is needed urgently, not more talk. To repeat what I - and many
others more knowledgeable and influential than me - have said for
years, the longer that the current system continues, with the
ever-increasing funding gap, the more difficult reform becomes. If
only the Government would realise this.