Labour’s social care pledges branded ‘plan for a plan’ and ‘broad promises’

The adult social care sector is in need of “deep reform”, Labour has said but the party’s manifesto pledges have been branded “broad promises, with little detail and no timetable for delivery”.

Labour described a sector plagued by inconsistent standards, chronic staff shortages, and people not always being treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.

It has pledged to create a previously-suggested National Care Service, with locally delivered services based on the principle that people must be supported to live independently at home for as long as possible.

Reports ahead of the launch suggested the ambition under a Fair Pay Agreement would be for care workers to be paid at least the real living wage, £12 across the UK or £13.15 in London, but no specific figures are mentioned in the manifesto.

The document has pledged

a fair pay agreement setting fair pay, terms and conditions, alongside training standards. The party said it will “consult widely” on the design of the agreement “before beginning the process and learn from countries where they operate successfully”

new national standards to ensure high-quality care and ongoing sustainability, and ensure providers behave responsibly

local partnership working between the NHS and social care on hospital discharge

to guarantee the rights of those in residential care to be able to see their families

to task regulators with assessing the role social care workers can play in basic health treatment and monitoring, as part of the efforts to move healthcare into local communities and professionalise the workforce

to build consensus for longer-term reform it said is needed to create a sustainable national care service

The party said it will explore how best to manage and support an ageing population, better integration with the NHS, support for working-age disabled adults, and “how to move to a more preventative system”.

Labour said it would guarantee rights of people in residential care to be able to see their families (Andrew Matthews/PA)
Labour said it would guarantee rights of people in residential care to be able to see their families (Andrew Matthews/PA)

The manifesto also states that the party will “ensure the publication of regular, independent workforce planning” across both health and social care.

The document also references an intention to strengthen regulation of the children’s social care sector and said the party will work with local government to support children in care.

Age UK said there appear to be “no new commitments” for adult social care.

Charity director Caroline Abrahams said: “It does mean that, if Labour forms the next Government, incoming ministers will be under huge pressure to act fast to put flesh on the bones of the ‘plan for a plan’ so far outlined and in bringing forward a Fair Pay Agreement for care workers – an initiative which is important and welcome, but that is also their only concrete proposal for driving improvement in the short term.”

Echoing this, the King’s Fund health charity said the manifesto “largely dodges the issue of social care reform” and that the promises “could best be described as a plan to come up with a plan”, while the National Care Forum, representing not-for-profit organisations in the care and support sector, spoke of a “real concern” around an apparent lack of urgency on the needs of the sector.

Mike Padgham, chairman of the Independent Care Group representing adult social care providers in York and North Yorkshire, described it as “refreshing to see promises in writing”.

But he added: “That excitement has to be tempered by the fact that the reforms are very much broad promises, with little detail and no timetable for delivery.”

He warned any increase in care workers’ pay must be accompanied by a promise that local authorities commissioning care have the funding they need to make it work.

He added: “Many, particularly smaller providers, are struggling to meet the latest increase in the national living wage and national minimum wage and without more funding will not be able to meet further rises.”

The Unison union, representing care workers, described a fair pay agreement as a “first huge step towards ending the growing crisis in the sector” and said a national care service “will alleviate pressure on the NHS and give everyone who needs it the support they deserve”.