Labour pledge to fund free personal care for the elderly

Author: Ingrid Torjesen
Labour pledge to fund free personal care for the elderly

A future Labour government would fund free personal care for all elderly people so that they can live independently in their own homes, Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell will announce today in a speech to the Labour Party Annually Conference.

He is due to say: “The next Labour government will introduce personal care free at the point of use in England. Funded not through the Conservatives’ gimmicky insurance schemes, but, like the NHS and our other essentials, through general taxation.”

This personal care, provided as part of the National Care Service, would include help with daily tasks such as getting in and out of bed, bathing and washing, and preparing meals in their own homes and residential care.

Labour has also pledged to support local authorities to directly provide, rather than outsource, care and to better support the workforce, to ensure that older people receive support from trained staff who have the time and skills needed to provide care. This will include ending the use of zero-hour contracts, ensuring that carers are paid a real living wage, including for travel time, ending 15-minute care visits, and improving access to training and development for care staff.

Currently, only people with low levels of savings receive publicly-funded personal care, and the King’s Fund estimates that the commitment would more than double the number of people receiving state funding care and cost around £6bn in 2020/21.

Barbara Keeley MP, Labour’s Shadow Social Care and Mental Health Minister, said: “Tackling the crisis in social care is a priority for Labour. Our plans for social care will address the immediate crisis in care, double the number of people receiving publicly-funded care, and stop people with dementia being treated unfairly by the care system. It is vital that social care is a universally-available public service which provides dignity, security and compassionate care. Our National Care Service will have these principles at its core.”

Commenting on Labour’s plans for social care, Sally Warren, director of policy at The King’s Fund, said: “The social care system is not fit for purpose. Many older and disabled people who need help with basic tasks such as washing and eating are forced to rely on family, pay for care themselves or are unable to access care at all. 

“The case for reform is overwhelming and free personal care would be a good step. If funded properly, this will be simpler for people to understand and mean more people receive the help and support they need. But free personal care is not the same thing as free social care, and some people would still be left facing catastrophic costs of care.”

She added that while the aspirations were welcome there was “little detail in how those aspirations will be delivered and what it will cost”. “The lack of serious proposals to support working age adults is also disappointing. Working age adults account for around half of the public money spent on social care and they must not be forgotten when reforming the system,” she said.

“Reducing the historic divide between means-tested social care and largely free-at-the-point-of-use NHS services could benefit thousands of people, but that does not necessarily require more services provided by local authorities. A properly funded new system should have space for public, private and voluntary sector care providers – a diversity that has been feature of social care for 30 years. Reforms to social care are desperately needed and should focus on creating a better funded and fairer system that delivers the quality of care that older and disabled people need and rightly expect.”

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, also welcomed the commitment but wanted to see further detail about how the pledge would be delivered and paid for.

“Free personal care will help a lot more people with their day-to-day needs – this is the right and fair thing to do,” he said. “This is an issue that has vexed successive governments and the detail here will be critical.”

Whatever solutions are put forward by individual political parties will likely founder without cross-party input and support, he emphasised. “This is one of the defining issues of our time and we need politicians from across the main parties to work together in the best interests of vulnerable older people, disabled working age adults and their carers.”