Work on reforming funding of social care has been set back by the pandemic, despite Boris Johnson promising he had a plan ready to go when he became Prime Minister in July 2019 – months before coronavirus struck.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said ministers were “committed” to finding a “cross-party” solution – although Labour claimed there had been a lack of dialogue.
Mr Sunak faced criticism from care groups, MPs and charities over the absence of measures to address growing social care pressures in this year’s Budget.
Mr Sunak was asked during an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme why there was no mention of social care in his financial statement.
He said: “We are committed to finding, ideally, a cross-party solution to sustainable social care funding – it is important given the long-term duration of social care policy that, as much as possible, we would like to build consensus around a solution.
“Obviously right now our focus is the pandemic.
“I know the Health Secretary has started that work on trying to see what the solutions might be and at the appropriate time, if we can find consensus on a solution, we will bring that forward and have that conversation, but that is something that of course we remain committed to.”
Successive governments have failed to address the situation which can both leave families facing ruinously expensive care costs while the system as a whole struggles for funding.
In his first speech as Prime Minister in July 2019 Mr Johnson said he was “announcing now – on the steps of Downing Street – that we will fix the crisis in social care once and for all with a clear plan we have prepared”.
But almost two years on there is no sign of that plan and Number 10 acknowledged work on the proposals – due to finally be produced this year – had been held up by the pandemic.
Pressed on why there was still no information about such a plan when the Prime Minister said it had already been prepared, Mr Sunak said: “I think given, as you said, it has been a problem that has not found a solution over many governments and parliaments, I think it is going to take some time and thought to get it right because we want to make sure it is a lasting settlement.
“And right now, particularly on the health side, the focus is on tackling the pandemic, and that’s right that that is our focus.”
The Prime Minister’s press secretary, Allegra Stratton, told reporters: “I do truly believe that the focus for everyone in Government has been on saving lives in care homes and other places, but a lot of care homes over the last year, and there just hasn’t been the chance to look in detail at what comes next.”
She said Health Secretary Matt Hancock had written to all MPs on the issue in March 2020 and would pick that work up again as the coronavirus crisis eased.
But Labour’s shadow minister for social care, Liz Kendall, said the Government had not “discussed or even raised” with the Opposition its plans to build a cross-party consensus.
She said: “There was nothing in the Budget on social care, despite everything that has happened during this pandemic and the Prime Minister’s promise on the steps of Downing St to fix the crisis in social care more than 18 months ago.
“Today the Chancellor claimed this gaping hole is because the Government is trying to build cross-party consensus about the way forward. Yet this has not been discussed or even raised with Labour’s front bench team, despite our repeatedly asking the care minister about this issue.
“Our society and economy need a care system that is fit for the future. Ministers must bring forward plans for reform as a matter of the utmost urgency and deliver on their promises to the British people.”
Sir Andrew Dilnot, who led a review into the future of funding social care which recommended a cap on costs in 2011, said the lack of action on it was “a stain on our nation”.
He said the broad outline of any plan would involve topping up the funding for council-delivered means-tested social care while creating “some form of social insurance” for the population to “pool the risk” should they need care later in life.
He predicted it would need between £7-10 billion extra per year to be put into social care.
Sir Andrew told BBC Radio 4’s World At One: “We know how to do this, we just need to get on and do it.”