The government has launched a ‘listening exercise’ this week on the future of adult social care. But will they actually take any notice of what they hear? I doubt it.
For those involved in social care, the announcement of the listening exercise – the new, cuddlier phrase for consultation – creates a feeling of déjà vu, and, for the umpteenth time.. We’ve been here before on several occasions over the past couple of decades, through government exercises, and most recently when the Dilnot Commission made a ‘call for evidence’ – how many synonyms are there for consultation? – back in December last year.
This listening exercise runs until December 2, and the government has asked for views from service users, carers, local councils, care providers and the voluntary sector on what the government needs to focus on to improve the care system. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
And I suspect you won’t have to be Psychic Sally to predict the result of the exercise. Something along the lines of: fairer funding, ending the postcode lottery of services, bringing down eligibility thresholds for services. Basically, what service users, carers, charities etc have been telling various governments for years.
Why do we need another consultation? The issues haven’t changed for service users in the past couple of years since the Labour government’s Big Care Debate. If anything, things have simply become worse since then, thanks to swingeing cuts to many local authority adult social care budgets.
But whether we need another consultation or not, I doubt it will make much difference to government thinking. The most recent high-profile listening exercise was earlier this year over the reform of the NHS. From what I have seen and heard, the general consensus was against widespread reform and the introduction of GP commissioning for health services. However, this hasn’t stopped the government pushing ahead with its plans. While some measures were watered down, the majority stayed pretty much as they were.
This is why I am sceptical. The government has its own ideas – probably coloured by financial considerations – and they will do what they want to anyway, regardless of the outcome of the listening exercise.
The government was, at best, lukewarm about the Dilnot Commission proposals – especially the bit where it said it would cost £1.3 - £2.2 billion to raise the means-test threshold – so anything that costs money, say, bringing down eligibility thresholds is likely to be a no-no. And that rules a lot of change out, because most recommended change tends to cost money.
That’s not to say that change isn’t on the way for social care – a government white paper is scheduled for next spring – but I doubt that it will reflect what people will tell them in the listening exercise.