Social care isn’t provided by the NHS or councils – it’s provided by unpaid family carers

a sign asking did you get the message

No government can afford to take carers for granted

This week we’ve let Gordon go on his holidays, so I’m standing in while he suns himself in South America. Whilst he’s rediscovering the lost civilisations of the Incas, I’ve been meeting the Tories, as they look increasingly likely to form the next government. So what would a Conservative government mean for carers?

Some things wouldn’t change at all. The NHS recession began in 2005/6 and cuts to health and care services will continue long after the rest of the economy recovers, because it will take years, perhaps even a generation, to pay back the increased public debt.

Politicians always want to be seen as champions of the NHS, but this is the first election in years where social care is a genuine election issue, with the two parties competing to convince us we’d receive good quality, affordable care in later life.

The government is pushing through the Personal Care at Home Bill, with grudging support from the other parties, who, along with local government representatives and a number of peers, are pointing out that the headline of “free personal care for the elderly” comes with quite a lot of caveats.

We are all for free personal care for older and disabled people and it will be good to see this principle on the statute books. It’s a start at least.

But this new free personal care will be offered only to those with the very highest needs and their carers’ support needs won’t count towards their eligibility. Carers won’t be any worse off, but only some will be better off under this proposal.

David Cameron on GMTV

Politicians need to flesh out their ideas into genuine policy ahead of the election

We’re hoping that argy-bargy about that Bill doesn’t drown out what had been a very promising Big Care Debate, which should see a White Paper setting out the future of social care in the next few weeks.

The government made some useful suggestions last year to kick of this debate and has promised us several times that it will come up with more concrete offers for carers in the White Paper. Watch this space.

While Labour are concentrating their current offer on free care at home, the Tories’ counter-offer focuses on the costs of residential care for older people.

They are pledging an insurance scheme that will cover you against future residential care costs. You will be able to choose to take part in it during your 65th year and it will have a one-off cost of £8,000.

As with the free home care offer, there has been a lot of muttering about the maths behind this offer. An academic described it the other day as the bargain of the century. Whether a Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer would sign off the sums is another question.

The Lib Dems haven’t made their play on care yet, although the consultation they’ve been doing with the sector suggests that they are thinking carefully about the subject.

What is missing from all of these proposals, of course, is anything new for carers.

Our message to politicians remains this: social care in the UK isn’t provided by the NHS, or by councils. It’s provided by unpaid family carers, whose contribution dwarves that of the state. No government can afford to take them for granted and so far, no party has come up with a concrete offer to the UK’s six million carers.

Tory leader David Cameron has been talking about establishing a right to respite for carers which sounds promising (notably during an interview on the GMTV couch), but raises some questions such as “how much respite?” “how often?” “for which carers?” Let’s hope we see that idea fleshed out into a genuine policy ahead of the election. And let’s hope the other parties come up with an offer they think will beat it. If they do, you’ll be the first to know.

Take care,


Alex Fox is Director of Policy & Communications at The Princess Royal Trust for Carers.


February 9, 2010 - Posted by | Social Care | , , ,


  1. I understand that David Cameron received respite care from Social Services for his son Ivan despite being able to afford and having two nannies for him. I would have thought that if you were deciding “for which carers” you would perhaps prioritise those who didnt have nannies for their disabled children or even, controversially perhaps, those who go to their doctor for treatment for burnout and clinical depression?

    Comment by karen | February 9, 2010 | Reply

  2. That’s a tough call, Karen, takes us back to means testing and also begs the question of which services are provided to the disabled child in their own right, and which to the parents? By providing employment to nannies out of his own pocket, and by working hard for his salary on which he pays takes, Cameron’s family were perfectly entitled to receive some statutory services to support his critically ill child, whether education, health, or social work. If we means test all these services, then we end up creating a new kind of poverty trap, akin to the American welfare state. What next, foodstamps?

    Comment by Rob | February 9, 2010 | Reply

  3. Hi Alex,

    “””””Our message to politicians remains this: social care in the UK isn’t provided by the NHS, or by councils. It’s provided by unpaid family carers, whose contribution dwarves that of the state. No government can afford to take them for granted and so far, no party has come up with a concrete offer to the UK’s six million carers. “”””

    The above says it all.

    Report after report comes out…no. of elderly going to increase dramatically, those with illnesses/disabilities will live longer , no. with Alzheimers going to go through the roof etc.Yet the one thing most of them have in common is a family carer(s).

    Carers are taked for granted now, yet are vital to the running of this country, and will be needed even more so in the future too.Support, both financially and with services, must be given to them, otherwise it makes no difference all the consultations/debates/secret talks among ministers….any new National Care Service will fail.

    No one as yet has produced a real solution, and all the bickering going on between the parties is wasting valuable time.

    Comment by Rosemary | February 13, 2010 | Reply

  4. It’s all about soundbites and no substance. I would love to see a debate between the leaders of the main parties but on substantive policy questions, not soundbite stuff.

    Comment by charles47 | February 14, 2010 | Reply

  5. The tragedy is that most of us will all now need some kind of care in our old age. We are all living longer, some thanks to modern medical science, however what we are campaigning about today will be our lot in times to come so we shouldnt believe that this will not affect us. We should (and importantly the Government should) make this a workable, affordable and definitive priority. God help us.

    Comment by Sandra Heath | March 2, 2010 | Reply

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