Queen’s Speech 2021: Leading health and social care organisations weigh in on government priorities
Following the Queen’s Speech 2021 to the House of Lords, which set out the UK Government’s priorities for the year ahead, leading health and social care organisations have responded with their opinions.
Some of the highlights regarding health and social care changes announced in the speech included: bringing forward measures to reform the social care system, bringing forward legislation to empower the NHS to innovate and embrace technology, and that patients will receive more tailored and preventative care, closer to home.
Age UK, Leonard Cheshire, ADASS, The Health Foundation, Hft and Carers UK all remarked on the announcement to bring social care reforms forward. They unanimously remarked that while this announcement is welcome, it is important that the government delivers on this commitment and urgently invests in the social care sector.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK and Co-Chair of the Care and Support Alliance (CSA), noted that whilst it is positive that the UK Government has committed formally to social care reform in 2021, it is inevitable that the UK Government needs to invest billions more into social care to help top council budgets back up again.
She responded: “The question now is how good the Government’s proposals will be, not whether there will be any at all, so this is an important step forward for the millions of older and disabled people and carers who deserve so much better than what’s often on offer to them today.
“Ministers have made it clear that they see a cap on sky high care costs as the centrepiece of their reforms, because it is so evidently unfair for anyone to be financially ruined by long term care bills.
“However, this is not the only unfairness in how care operates today, and it would be a bizarre outcome if we gave more protection to home owners, while leaving those with fewer assets to the current underfunded system. This would especially disadvantage sick and disabled adults who have just as much right to decent care as older people.
“So as well as bringing forward some kind of cap, there is no avoiding the need for the Government to invest billions more into care – topping council budgets back up again after having allowed them to fall so disastrously over the last decade.”
Caroline also said that the government needs to recognise social care workers in a similar esteem to their NHS counterparts, recognising their tremendous efforts throughout the pandemic. She added that the current social care system has been “shamefully” neglected.
“The final essential element is the need for the Government to professionalise the care workforce, giving care workers the terms and conditions, and career structure, that should rightfully be theirs’ after their magnificent performance during the pandemic,” continued Caroline.
“It’s high time we ended the situation in which care staff are constantly the poor relations of their equivalents in the NHS.
“If the Government brings forward a package of reforms of scale and ambition, backed up by the funding required, we will be able to hold our heads up high again as a nation, consigning our current, shamefully neglected social care system to the past, where it belongs. If this happens older and disabled people, and their carers, will be able to breathe more easily, confident that they will get the help they know they need.”
Other organisations have highlighted that the Queen’s Speech 2021 failed to mention timeframes or scope of social care reform proposals.
The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) President Stephen Chandler described this lack of detail from government about how the social care system can be fit for purpose in the 21st century as “deeply frustrating”.
The association said that it is ready to work with the government to create the care and support that everyone wants for themselves and their families, but that it must take the first step and set out its proposals.
Echoing these sentiments, Leonard Cheshire Director of Policy Gemma Hope called on the UK Government to not delay on its promises on delivering social care reform. She added: “Disabled people have already been treated as an afterthought during the pandemic with devastating results.”
Additionally, The Health Foundation has weighed in on the Queen’s Speech 2021, saying that the UK Government recognises major health challenges facing the country but not the scale of action needed.
Responding to the speech, Dr Jennifer Dixon, Chief Executive of The Health Foundation, commented: “[The] Queen’s speech shows a welcome recognition by the government that COVID-19 will cast a long shadow over the NHS. But the scale and depth of impact of the pandemic on the NHS is immense.
“The Health and Care Bill may help improve collaboration between services but it will not fix the most urgent issues facing the service, with critical workforce shortages and a huge backlog of unmet need for care.
“Without significant investment in the workforce, infrastructure and technology, the backlog won’t be addressed quickly and the public will experience avoidable long waits for care.”
She also expressed her dismay for the lack of plan for social care, saying that this is letting down the many people who need social care support, care workers and care providers.
Dr Dixon added: “The Treasury’s objection that reform is unaffordable does not stand up to scrutiny, with pragmatic and workable solutions on the table that would cost just 2% of what we currently pay for the NHS. Given the weight of the case for change, the question is not whether social care reform is affordable but whether the government can afford to delay progress on an issue that could become its Achilles heel.”
Similarly, Hft CEO Kirsty Matthews has outlined that while the pledge to bring social care reform proposals forward is a step in the right direction, there was a “stark absence” of concrete legislation regarding reform and a long-term funding settlement for the sector.
Kirsty continued: “The 2021 Queen’s Speech follows an extremely challenging year which saw the social care sector play a vital role on the front line, supporting some of the most vulnerable adults in society. It is therefore even more disappointing that the government chose to leave the social care sector and the people we support out of their plans to ‘Level Up’ as the country recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic.
“While the government has renewed their pledge to bring forward proposals for social care this year, there was a stark absence of concrete legislation outlining reform and a long-term funding settlement for the sector.
“As demonstrated by our Sector Pulse Check research, this is desperately needed, given that 56% of social care providers reported being either in deficit or having seen their surplus decline. These cost pressures have ultimately led to service closures, staff redundancies and care being offered to fewer people.”
Finally, Helen Walker, Chief Executive of Carers UK, commented that until concreate measures are put in place for social care reform, millions of families will be forced to take on care responsibilities for older or disabled relatives. This costs them their livelihoods and relationships at the expense of their own physical and mental health, she warns.
Added Helen: “Unpaid carers couldn’t be clearer: they are worn out and overwhelmed. 81% have been providing more care for relatives during the pandemic and 64% haven’t been able to take any breaks whatsoever. A huge majority (78%) have seen their loved ones’ health deteriorate.
“Without England’s millions of unpaid carers our health and social care systems would have collapsed in the last year. Carers desperately need a light at the end of the tunnel. Whilst Government has committed to social care reform proposals being brought forward, this must be delivered without any further delays.
“We need to see detailed plans for reform that make sure unpaid carers get the practical and financial support they need to care.”