By 2080, the UK will be home to one million 100 year olds. People today live with chronic illness for an average of eight years at the end of their lives. How we care for this growing elderly population is the most pressing public policy problem of our time.
It is, of course, a problem for central government and it is in these terms that it usually discussed: but it is also, perhaps most of all, an issue for local government.
It is local government overwhelmingly that funds, commissions and, in some cases, still provides social care. It is local government that picks up the pieces when things go wrong and it is local government that will play the biggest role in making sure that we get the care we need.
This is why over recent months, with the support of the LGiU, 10 MPs from across the political parties came together through the the All Party Parliamentary Group for Local Government has held an inquiry on the future of adult social care. We received evidence from over 80 organisations including local authorities, care providers and user groups. As expected this points to an urgent need for systemic reform.
We heard differing views on how the system should be funded, but everyone agrees that we need to get more money into the system and it is clear that the taxpayer can’t afford to foot the bill alone.
The majority of people already fund their own care and this will continue in the future. What we must do though is to help people plan for their future care needs, and ensure that where people are asked to contribute, that the system is fair and transparent.
Clarity around funding will allow both individuals and public agencies to plan for the future and will allow the development of a competitive market in financial and other products that make use of people’s assets, that enable them to provide for their care costs. We also urge that local authorities act immediately to connect people with appropriate advice and guidance about the options available to them.
Important as it is though, funding is not the only question we need to consider. Increasing funding has limited value if it is not accompanied by a wholesale reorientation of health and social care towards prevention. This will take out costs from the system both for individuals and the public purse, lessen demand for care and provide better outcomes for older people.
However, this will require real integration across the public sector and for this to happen at a greater scale than it currently does will need major structural and budgetary reform. The introduction of new Health and Wellbeing Boards can be a powerful driver of change and we will make recommendations on the role they can play. Similarly, we believe that the ‘Community Budgets’ approach, already being championed by the government in respect of family intervention, will be key to bringing health and social care together.
Reforming social care funding and delivery will not be easy but it must be done. I hope that by working in a cross-party way, and by focusing on the critical role of local government, our report, ‘Care now and for the future’ and its recommendations will add ideas and urgency to the current debate, as well as helping to achieve a political consensus on the action that is needed now and in the future.
Heather Wheeler is the Conservative MP for South Derbyshire and is a member of the communities and local government select committee