The Guardian view on social care: the Lib Dems have a plan. It should be welcomed | Editorial

Good for the Liberal Democrats. Sir Ed Davey’s campaign pledge that his party would, if elected, fund free social care at home is the most significant policy announcement so far in a crucial area. The past 14 years have not been short of social policy failures. But the Conservatives’ lack of action on care is one of the most egregious. This is an issue they should have taken a lead on. Instead they have made promises, only to break them.

Sir Ed has a lifetime of caring behind him: for his mother, who died of cancer when he was a teenager, and later his grandmother and disabled son. His proposal is to raise £2.7bn by reversing a tax cut to banks. This, the party says, would be enough to pay for free personal care, including washing and medication, for everyone in England who is living at home and needs it (social care is devolved, and the Lib Dem proposals resemble the Scottish system). Care workers would also benefit from a new minimum wage £2 higher than the national minimum wage. The costs of residential care would not be covered.

The policy is not perfect. Care organisations and other experts have questioned the calculations. Sarah Woolnough of the King’s Fund thinktank, for example, does not think £2.7bn is enough to “put social care back on a sustainable footing”. Many younger disabled people as well as older adults struggle to access sufficient support. But the Lib Dems can be commended for putting ideas and numbers on the table. Importantly, the policy addresses shortcomings in the current system from both the perspective of the people who receive social care and those who are employed to provide it.

Sir Andrew Dilnot, who led a government-backed social care commission more than a decade ago, said earlier this year that the two biggest parties should “grow up” and stop behaving as though “this massive issue that faces all of us as we grow old is not there”. Labour has committed to new national standards for the sector encompassing quality of care, financial regulation and working conditions. It plans to broker new fair pay agreements, though details of how negotiations would work have not been set out. This week the party promised to investigate the treatment of migrant care workers, after the Guardian revealed dozens of cases of alleged exploitation and abuse of the visa system by sponsoring organisations. Beyond these specific instances, the health and care workforce is an increasingly urgent priority, as is the role of private equity.

It is the Conservatives, in government for 14 years, who rightly face the public’s wrath. While the NHS, not social care, tops voters’ concerns, it is widely understood that the two are closely linked. Boris Johnson promised to “fix the crisis in social care” back in 2019. But Kwasi Kwarteng cancelled a planned national insurance rise in his disastrous mini-budget, and his successor, Jeremy Hunt, deferred changes to the rules and thresholds for care charges until 2025.

The Lib Dem leader was a minister in the coalition government that commissioned and then ignored Sir Andrew. He bears a share of responsibility for the failures of those years, including an assault on local government funding from which the country has not recovered, with the social care system among the casualties. But his party’s proposal for new entitlements and higher wages deserves a hearing. Social care reform must not be put off any longer.

The Guardian