Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt has issued a strongly-worded criticism to ministers at the Department for Health and Social Care, expressing his disappointment at the government's failure to address social-care funding concerns and bring forward long-term reforms.
Hunt, who currently chairs parliament’s Health and Social Care Select Committee and holds the record for being Britain’s longest-serving health secretary, said a stated intention to address social care reform “this year” rings hollow in the absence of detail on process or timescale.
Matt Hancock, Hunt’s successor as health secretary, gave the “this year” pledge on social care reform to MPs last week as he presented the government’s white paper on NHS reform, which does not address the issue.
In a letter to care minister Helen Whately yesterday, Hunt said he was disappointed the government had failed to provide more detail on its long-term plans for social care reform, and in particular that his committee’s call for extra funding had not been heeded.
MPs on the select committee had urged the government to increase investment in social care by £7bn a year by the 2023-2024 financial year and to bring forward a plan to streamline the training of social-care workers.
“The government must urgently tackle the problems in the care sector as a priority,” he said. “Despite repeated promises to this committee and its predecessor over several years, the government appears to have made no progress towards a genuine long-term solution to the crisis in social care.”
Before he became health secretary in 2012, Hunt was culture secretary in the coalition government, headed by David Cameron.
The coalition appointed economist Andrew Dilnot to chair a commission on the funding of care and support, which reported in July 2011.
The commission’s recommendations included introducing a cap that would limit the cost of social care for people, in a move expected to create a market for new care-insurance products to cover care expenses individuals would still be responsible for. But they were never implemented.
Theresa May introduced hugely controversial reform plans for social care in the Conservative Party's manifesto for the 2017 general election – when Hunt was still health secretary. However, the proposals, which were less generous than those made by the Dilont Commission, became dubbed a "dementia tax" and were pulled before the election.
Hunt said in his letter to Whately that he appreciated long-term reform of social care was a “difficult question without easy answers”. But he said it was now “far past the time for concrete action.”
“It is clear that long-term issues in the social care sector left it particularly vulnerable to the impact of the pandemic, and hampered the government’s ability to respond to the crisis in social care,” he said.
“It has never been more urgent to bring forward a long-term solution to the issues facing social care and after so many false dawns it is vital that ‘this year’ means exactly that.”
Whately is due to give evidence before the health and social care committee next week in a session on “workforce burnout in the NHS and social care”.
Hunt said he hoped she would also be able to provide more detail on the government’s plans for social care at the session.
DHSC said it was committed to ensuring everyone receiving care continued to get the very best support during the Covid-19 pandemic. But it acknowledged that putting social care on a sustainable footing was one of the biggest challenges society faces.
A spokesperson said: “The government has provided billions of pounds of additional funding to the care sector and made additional support available to tackle the pandemic, including free PPE and regular testing, as well as priority for vaccinations, for staff and residents.
“Delivering a care system that is fit for the future, in which people are treated with dignity and respect, remains a top priority and, following new measures set out for social care in the health and care bill white paper, we will bring forward proposals for sustainable improvements to the system later this year.”
DHSC said local authorities had been given access to an additional £1.5bn of funding for adult and children’s social care in 2020-21, with more than £1bn of additional funding for 2021-22 announced by chancellor Rishi Sunak in November’s Spending Review.
This story was updated at 16:50 on 18 February 2021 to include a DHSC response